‘Fishing for Rare Fish’ by Fauzia Rafique

Art by Ed Kuris

In anticipation of the Poetry Month coming up, i began to look for some non-political poems. My quest soon became similar to fishing for a rare fish in the ocean of plastics and indigestible sea creatures. Based on what i found, here, still a bit fuzzy, is the inventory of my fishing expedition. You are welcome to check it out, and add to it if you like.

Poetry is the most practiced form of writing across cultures. It can be said that in a gathering of ten authors, eight-and-a-half may be poets where one can be a fiction writer and the remaining ‘half’ could be the writers of non-fiction. I write poems too, and I just love the way this form of writing morphs into song, spoken word, slam, rap and drama. Reading, more so hearing, poetry is one of the luxuries I often enjoy. So, barring all my favorite poets, here’s what i found.

A number of poets write what my colleague Sana Janjua calls Tourism Poetry where the beauty of a place, often ‘foreign’ and ‘exotic’ to the poet, is expressed in detail without including the people of that place. This is how we are taught to look at the world, as a tourist attraction where local, often under-privileged, people are themselves a part of that attraction or a distraction or just irrelevant to the purpose of travel or creating a poem about nature. If i’m not mistaken, it is a political standpoint; in fact, a colonial political standpoint.

Then we have The Ethnic Flagship poetry that explores, in case of South Asia for example, myths of spirituality and mysticism of the ‘East’, and in doing so affirms the Western readers’ historical/generational experience of colonization of that east, and in most instances, the poet stands with their historic/generational colonizers by looking at and presenting their own culture of origin in the ways the colonizers did, and they still do.

The Sufi Sphinx poems take this a step further by offering tons of usable mysticism with solutions such as ‘self-correction’ and/or ‘self-annihilation’ to decidedly take the reader’s and the poet’s attention away from actual problems and their possible solutions. This saves both from stumbling into uncomfortable territories, for example, into the possibility of systemic in-equity as one of the causes of human dis-content.

A large proportion of diasporic poets are Homeland Wailers writing poem after poem on the pain of separation from their homeland while saying nothing much about the conditions of the society they live in or the one they wail about. It appears as if the main issue is the pain of migration or of the time passed (especially their youth where many, mostly male, poets get fixated), not why it occurred or how situation in the present may be less than desirable in both the ‘home’ and ‘abroad’ countries.

There are ample Lego Party poems where each poem is a puzzle or a puzzling game created by the Settler poet or poets as a delightful exploration into the art and craft of poetry that does not require or encourage critical thinking, positioning poetry as a worthy distraction from personal and societal burdens of the past and the present.

Promptesque, the thriving domain of Lego Party poets, provides training for emerging writers to be able to write a poem on a given word/words or terms, songs or paintings, within a given amount of time. The emphasis on craft continues at the expense of theme/content as the fetish of government-funded prompt-poetry grows.

Dutiful includes poetry prompted by catastrophic events or by certain violations of human rights such as violence against women, that is devoid of any deeper understanding of the issue, and so, it rhymes a dogmatic sermon in support of the ‘official’, often incorrect and misleading, version of the tragic event. As well, such poems appear to have been written to provide evidence that the writer is ‘with it’, aware, and a sensitive human being.

Then, we have a whole range of Kithartica where this art form is used to loadshed some of the poet’s emotional baggage, and employed as a tool for the healing of the self.

I am not against any of it. In fact, we all use all these forms as we continue to work with our favored ways of saying different things. My problem is with stopping short, not acknowledging the politics of it, and then, misrepresenting it as ‘non-political’ art.

Stopping short where one minor ‘fact’ or outcome is taken and presented as the whole; and where the ‘whole’ is hidden by a tiny, often irrelevant, detail. Example: ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ is sometimes presented as the cause for the failure of a relationship. Yes, in certain cases, it may be part of the mix, but it never can be the reason. Relationships fail because two people may have diverse perspectives or different goals in life, they may not have synergy, they may come from diverse cultural backgrounds or from different class/privilege spectrum, they may have varying sexual orientation or sexuality, there could be emotional/psychological/sexual/physical abuse, some control issues perhaps, or any other combination but it’s definitely not because ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. This method of creating and spreading Nonsense-Wisdom, like many other such constructions, not only stops short of the actual issue but it also leads to depressive, even oppressive, outlook. In this case, for example, it means that all our relationships are doomed to breed contempt just because they would require for us to become familiar with each other. So then, stopping short is not an innocent act of personal choice, it’s a conscious standpoint obliterating reality to safeguard the value systems that serve interests of certain people or groups of people.

In a similar way, the discussion to determine if someone’s art is political or not is a misleading detail manufactured to hide the truth of the entrenched politicalness of pro-system art; to validate the lie that there is some art or literature that is not ‘political’ that there is ‘non-political’ art. Among other things, this helps to avoid answering some important questions such as ‘since we all write political stuff so is this the politics I want to perpetuate’ or ‘what is the politics of my poems?’ It is such a taboo that poets may be willing to meet to discuss the poetics of their poetry but never its politics.

Art is created from the experience we as individuals receive from all direct or indirect interaction with our environment. It is the re-emergence of parts of this continuing experience where all our interactions, passive or active, conscious or unconscious, past or present, manifest the culture and politics that we practice in order to live our lives; it is inside us and it surrounds us yet it remains unacknowledged by most of us. Perhaps this is, in part, because we relate to politics or we are ‘taught’ to relate to politics as something that stands outside of our personal lives; something that isn’t an intrinsic part of our public/private selves but perhaps a tool to organize, arrange and safeguard the larger ‘worldly’ things around and outside of us. In reality, art is born out of a symbiotic embrace with politics; inescapable. Even when we think that a poem, novel, song, video, film, painting is not ‘political’, it may be highly so.

Take for example, any of the stock romance novels, a form of literature we believe is a non-political escape/entertainment/comfort reading- or we think that because it is escape/entertainment/comfort reading so it is non-political, and add to it the fact that a large portion of art created in the world is a ‘copy/paste’ operation that continues to reproduce itself in novels, films, paintings, music and drama. This ‘mainstream’, ‘entertainment’, ‘commercial’ art, the so-called ‘non-political’ art is political inside and out. In it, everything systemic including current myths about race, class, caste, religion, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, ability not only abound but are affirmed; problems are viewed from one of the few peepholes provided by the prevalent political value systems; and, the proposed solutions perpetuate and protect the existing unfair/unequal political, economic and social structures. This is not non-political art but the art of bountiful ignorance.

The writers and artists who do not readily accept the myths projected by systems and their mouthpiece multinational media and arts organizations as truths, and the ones who do not acknowledge their prize-winners and scholars as icons and experts, may see images of our societies different from the ones offered; this when expressed in art is than classified as ‘political’. Another myth, a half truth, created to hide the political nature of pro-system art and literature.

So why are we so naive as to be misled by such tactics? Perhaps because we are part of the interest groups who need to distort this issue. Salvation Army founder William Booth once said: “a philanthropic body cannot afford to alienate the class which supports it”. Booth was humble when he limited his thoughts to just ‘philanthropic’ bodies. He could have easily lodged it as a universal truth that it is, that a ‘body’ cannot afford to alienate the class that supports it or ‘nobody’ can afford to alienate the class that supports it or ‘only nobody’ can afford to alienate the class that supports it.

I see that ‘nobody’ is a cool space for me.
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‘Those Nutritious Contraceptive Pills’ by Fauzia Rafique

The above image was being safe-kept in a folder named ‘ImagesForArticles’ with over twenty others, and that folder was not to be opened till perhaps 2020- yet here it is.

Last year, i copied this image from Facebook where it was being shared by my friends from around the world as a positive intervention in favor of a woman’s right to use contraceptives, the need for women to be enlightened, and as a way to resolve poverty. I again encountered it last week, this time it was the first item in a video collection of images about ‘today’s modern society’. In that context and if taken as irony it could work but no guarantees, so I stopped and made a comment:
Me: Pertinent, except for the first item that’s racist, classist and affirms colonial perspectives.
Friend: Are you saying that those issues don’t exist today?

There, let’s have another look at this image. We see two women with their children, two moms, one is younger, appears ‘smart’, well-dressed, seems ‘educated’, and she has her one baby in a pushchair representing a neat, emancipated and successful life; the other is older, ‘appears’ uninformed, tattered wardrobe, seems ‘illiterate’, she has one, two, three, four children, a baby, and, she’s begging along side them modelling a messy, exploited and failed existence. ‘Please help me’, she says. The ‘smart’ woman opens her purse, brings out a packet of contraceptive pills, and drops them in the hands of– someone who appears to be a destitute woman accompanied by hungry and under-clothed children.
Incredible!

I’m glad that at least the Recipient of the pills appears shocked if not the people who can not stop forwarding this construction as a positive message to the World.

Like many propaganda items carrying system-sponsored myths about poverty and how to resolve it, this image also supports the notion that under-privileged people are ignorant / illiterate / stupid, and that they are the cause of society’s ills including their own miserable state. Let’s view some of the messages this particular image is giving out, for example. It says that:
The responsibility of being poor is on poor people themselves;
People are poor because of their own ignorance, stupidity and lack of education/information;
The cause of poverty is over-population;
Poverty can be resolved, and emancipation of women can be achieved, through population control.

All of these are loaded and dangerous lies hidden, for our delusional benefit, in a small truth. It is true that less children cost less, and fewer children may allow women better lives, BUT that does not mean that the number of children causes poverty or affluence neither does it mean that it is the cause or the resolution of women’s exploitation. The causes and resolutions of both reside elsewhere.

In a world where the top 1% own half the wealth and the poorest half own just 1% or to put it another way, where the richest 1% now has as much wealth as the rest of the world combined, where one in nine people on the planet will go to bed hungry tonight, a small handful of billionaires have so much wealth they would need several lifetimes to spend it, where just eight individuals, all men, own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population, and you continue to believe that economic and gender based exploitation is caused by too many people having too many children whose own fault it is to stay poor or that poverty and misogyny can be resolved by using contraceptives, it’s your choice, but please do consider the unreason of it.

The concept of the world exploding with a growing population, and the absolute urgency to stop it in order to save the planet, surfaced in the 1950s and rapidly took hold of the world through international influencing agencies such as the United Nations, the World Bank and the Western governments. During the next two decades, the White Saviors again descended on the poorest of people in Asia, Africa and Latin America with contraceptive technologies and superiority entitlements and went trampling over the rights and lives of millions of under-privileged people. This sustained assault was established through legislation dictating how many children someone could have, mass-forced and/or un-informed sterilization campaigns, and marketing of new technologies harmful to women’s bodies. It was another historic example of extreme exploitation of women, another campaign of extreme violence against innocent people, carried out by the richest of the World: The colonial and colonized governments, and global pharmaceutical/health/finance/IT/Media industries.

As to the riddle of who may be responsible for poverty, consider this.
‘In 2012, the last year of recorded data, developing countries received a total of $1.3tn, including all aid, investment, and income from abroad. But that same year some $3.3tn flowed out of them. In other words, developing countries sent $2tn more to the rest of the world than they received. If we look at all years since 1980, these net outflows add up to an eye-popping total of $16.3tn-‘ theguardian.com

On top of hiding the actual causes of poverty such as colonization, corporate greed, inequal/unfair distribution of wealth/resources, this image shifts the responsibility of causing poverty to over-population. As well, it projects class-based biases through the pompous condescension of the ‘enlightened’ woman, and it conveys strong racial overtones where the ‘featured model’ appears ‘Western’ while the other ‘seems’ to be hailing from the Middle East, re-enforcing the popular colonial myth of White Superiority.

To me, this image defines d&d: ‘distasteful & dangerous’.

Photo from: onsizzle.com/i/please-help-me-contraceptive-pill-3665055
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Getting the ‘name-thing’ out of the way

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The booklaunch event of my novel The Adventures of SahebaN: Biography of a Relentlessc Warrior at Renaissance Books in New Westminster was a warm and inspiring event, thanks to Lavana La Brey (for having us), Nefertiti SheLa Morrisson (for hosting), Wendy Harris (for her vision about the novel), Valerie Parks, Franci Louann, Enrico Renz, Christopher Hamilton, Ibrahim Honjo, Sana Janjua, Idrian Burgos and Randeep Purewall.

Many interesting points came out during discussion; some required more time including the one about names that had also come up at the November 20th event at VG Playroom in Surrey. It expresses the thought that there are perhaps too many unfamiliar and difficult-to-pronounce names for the reader to deal with in both my novels, and if those could be made easier or replaced with more familiar names from the same cultural context, it’ll help the reader stay with the story.

This is not the first time i have heard these thoughts but this is the first time i’m taking the opportunity to respond to them. The words ‘reader’ and ‘readership’ mean two different things to me. A reader is one individual, readership is a category. I have deep caring for the reader with who i share my feelings and emotions, ideas and thoughts. Readership is an entity created by the marketing wizards of the publishing industry to coerce writers to write to make more money for them; they named the deity ‘readership’- but i’m an unbeliever anyway.

Most people who edited or evaluated my novel Skeena prior to publication told me that there were too many unfamiliar names in the first chapter, suggesting that it could be a barrier for the reader right at the beginning. About The Adventures of SahebaN also, it was noted for example, that the ‘N’ at the end instead of ‘n’ makes the protagonist’s name even more unfamiliar. Both these observations were, and are, correct. But from 2003 to now, each time i was presented with these ideas, i gave them my sincere honest thought, each time i chose to not act on them because these observations are correct from a certain point of view, a vantage point, that isn’t mine and when i deliberate on it i don’t want to own it.

Before coming to Canada, i had known that whoever ever colonized South Asia including the British, tried to change names of conquered places, peoples and things; and, because they were the conquerors they didn’t just try but they actually did change them. So, to this day, i hear this city or that road in Pakistan being renamed to be reclaimed by local people. A few years in Canada, and i realized that the same thing had happened here. The names of colonized peoples, places and things were changed. That brought to mind all the Hollywood movies showing the immigration desk at New York harbor where people were given ‘easier’ and ‘familiar’ names as they were stamped in to become US citizens. In our loving or hating relationships we give each other names to own parts of each other. Skeena begins with a description of that name from three different languages and cultures, and later in the novel, the character talks about a few ‘pet’ names her lover has for her that speak more to his own state than to hers. In SahebaN, i use my power as a writer to give ‘pet’ names to countries, people, places and organizations. Names are a currency of ownership; it’s important for me to know who has it in my novels. In other words, a name is an essential part of a character and its context, and i’m unwilling to alter it unless the theme/context of colonization or appropriation needs to be expressed.

As a Colored writer in Canada, i’m ‘expected’ to write about my ‘cultural’ themes, preferably keeping myself confined to those, while affirming all the prevalent myths about them; but not just that, i am required also to disburse my art in a form that is easily ingest-able and digestible for the local, mainly white, readership. Since i actively avoid the various channels established by the local structures to make literature acceptable for that same readership through processes, courses and workshops, my writing remains untamed and uncensored, and that at times, can be a bit unexpected for a reader. Also because not only that i live in the ‘West’ but i choose to write in English, there is this assumption that i’ll make it palpable for the ‘English-speaking reader’. What is an ‘English-speaking reader’ is a good question to ask because my ‘English-speaking reader’ lives in Pakistan, India, Malaysia, UK, Denmark, Netherlands, Australia, Canada, USA; and, so which ‘English-speaking reader’ would like less and easier names in the first section of Skeena? Those right here in BC Canada! In BC Canada, my English-speaking readers include people from Lahore, Chandigarh, New Delhi, Karachi, Toronto, Mississauga, Birmingham, London, New York, San Francisco, Suva.

Literature 101? Yes, i know it too. As a reader i have put away books that required too much effort from me to go into them, some i returned to and picked up and some i didn’t. That’s okay. So, if you are not a Punjabi, and you go to a village in Pakistani Punjab, it’ll seem crowded, noisy and full of unfamiliar names and words- just like it is in the first chapter of Skeena. It’s difficult for me to make it any more manageable, easier or hollywood-bollywood-lolliwood familiar because it’s not that village, that theme or that context.

This brings forward the concept of my ‘primary’ readership that i’m expected to be true or loyal to. The underlying fatal assumption that writers write for specific readership groups or that they should write for specific readership groups may be true for paid writing where a writer agrees to produce materials for a specific set of people, say, for clients of a health service, students of a particular discipline, the employees of a company. But creative writing? I don’t know about you, but i don’t write for any particular group, and i’m not ‘true’ to any readership. I write to share my understanding and view of different contexts and themes with anyone or no one, and my art needs only to be true to its own context and to my perception of that context, because that in reality, is the only thing i have to offer my reader.

There’s a saying in Urdu, ‘who sees the peacock dancing in the jungle / jungle main mor nacha kis ne dekhha‘, that highlights someone’s failure to project their awesome art to a wider mainstream audience. This saying is based on a similar fatal assumption as the above, that the peacock dances for a human audience or that the peacock should dance for a human audience. The peacock dances to lure a mate, and that’s who gets to see one of those amazing and unmatched dance performances not to speak of the stunning wardrobe that is lavished by the gifted performer at the lift of the curtain. A flower does not bloom to be praised or revered, it blooms because it’s a natural expression of a plant who is expecting to grow ripened fruit and seed out of it.

So, if the name SahebaN originates from a folk lore character of Punjabi love story Mirza-SahebaN, then this is one of the ways to deliver it in English: with a (silent) capital letter ‘N’ at the end. And my reader who may be unfimiliar with this name, will find some expression to feelings of frustration within the novel where at a couple of places this name thing does come up.

Photo by Ibrahim Honjo

Buy SahebaN
the-adventures-of-saheban_cover_nov61 Libros Libertad 2016
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All in favor of the Burqa Ban party

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Those in favor of Merkel’s call for a Burqa Ban not only include the extreme right, right and center of the political spectrum but they also include a large section of white and brown feminists, leftists, atheists, and other shades of ‘progressives’. That’s a lot of my organic community coming out in support of, or not opposing, the legislated removal of burqa being implemented by various conservative governments.

I am not in favor of burqa/purdah, but i’m dead against governments who are legislating or calling for a ban on it in Europe, America, Canada, Australia, and in the similar etcetras because all the burqa ban moves in these places are used to fan the ‘national security’ hysteria to take people’s attention away from the real issues of disparity and prejudice they face, and allows these governments to continue their brutal aggression and interference in various Asian and African countries. The burqa bans further stigmatize Muslim women and Islam, and, validate the undercurrent notion that the legislated removal of burqa in the ‘democratic’ societies would or could lead to the liberation of Muslim women. This is sick, and sickening.

The colonizer mindset continues to present colonization to be ‘enlightening’, ‘liberating’, and ‘civilizing’ for the colonized, and many people believe this because that’s what all the media outlets are giving out 24/7- the world view of the colonizer as the Civilized Saviour or the Saviour of Civilization. The ban on burqa is just one entry in the long list of ‘gentrification’ policies carried out against stigmatized populations, for example, Indigenous children were taken away and families were torn apart in the name of education, and their headdresses, dresses and ceremonies banned in the name of civilization.

This colonial mindset is easier to market when wrapped in a burqa because of the fact that burqa/purdah indeed IS something that is used by the male Muslim culture as one of the tools to control women’s lives. Now, here is an interesting thing about it: Vocal against the opposition to Merkel’s burqa ban, are some of those privileged White and Brown women who are neither threatened with the violence that comes with such racist and misogynist legislation nor are they forced to wear burqa in their immediate environments. Fanon’s quotation about the colonizer was ‘frustrating’ to them also(!) because it happens to find something ‘positive’ in the assigned total negativity of burqa, a woman. A mysterious and romanticized woman perhaps, but a woman, a person, nonetheless. While the gaze thrown on burqa and burqa-wearing woman by the ‘frustrated’ progressive individuals is a gaze full of assumptions and prejudices. Just like the colonizer, this group believes that a woman wearing burqa is a backward and uncivilized low-life who has no opinion, no voice and no unique personality. If this assumption was true, we could say that all bikini-wearing women were forward-looking, educated and civilized, but we know it’s not true either. Burqa frustrates the colonizers because it’s a control mechanism the colonizers cannot use, if they move to break it, it’s not to liberate the controlled population, it is to control that population with their own tools of sexism, racism, hatred and violence.

I can understand the passion that can bubble up from a woman living for example in Pakistan, at the mention or sight of burqa as we have all confronted that barrier in our lives and we may still confront it, but it’s better to not confuse that passion against burqa with the politics of Western burqa bans. If a government in a Muslim majority country such as Pakistan called for a burqa ban or went on to legislate one, i would support it with all my heart because it would mean that women in Pakistan have gained enough power to outlaw one of the major tools and symbols of male hegemony. I would support it because it would be a step taken by Muslim women themselves (All power to Muslim women living in Muslim majority countries).

But the same policy of legislating a burqa ban changes shape when implemented in a country and continent where Muslim men and women are a minority, the country is not ruled by Muslim legal or cultural systems, it was/is part of historic oppressors of people in Muslim majority areas, and the time is after 9/11 when Muslims face stigma, racism, hatred and violence in these parts of the world. In this environment, a government places a burqa ban on Muslim women- you think it’s going to liberate us?

If anyone was interested in supporting the ‘liberation’ of burqa-wearing Muslim women in Western countries, they would show some respect and make way or at least get out of the way to allow women their own process to arrive at a stage where they choose to not wear it.

Opposing West’s burqa ban does not mean support for burqa/purdah or the use of it; it means these governments must stop dictating to Muslim women, stop stigmatizing and endangering an already vulnerable population, and, to stop marketing their colonial perspectives about Muslim women and women’s liberation through burqa bans.

Supporting or not supporting such hate-filled policies must need more than a tantrum against burqa.
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Waxing (non) Poetic at Vancouver’s CO-OP Radio

coop_logo

Yesterday, i had an interesting conversation about my just-launched novel The Adventures of SahebaN: Biography of a Relentless Warrior with Pamela Bentley and RC Weslowski, two of my favorite poets, slam artists and radio hosts at Vancouver’s CO-OP Radio. You can listen to it if you like. There are excerpts from the first SahebaN story ‘Vital Parts’, and a couple of verses from the novel.
coopradio.org/content/wax-poetic-6

Of course, i’m more absent-minded than Pam gives me credit for, so the second time i get the chance to pitch the event at Semiahmoo library, i give the wrong date. It is DEC 3rd not 4th. And, regarding distribution, anyone can ask a bookshop or a library anywhere to get it for them.

Earlier, i had a warm and cozy first launch at VG PlayRoom with Host Virginia Gillespie, Guest Speaker Liam Paul Wallinger and many beautiful peers, friends and family. For photos and other outcomes from events, view this page:
saheban.wordpress.com/photos

Next event is Surrey Muse on Friday November 25, and on November 29 and December 3rd

the-adventures-of-saheban_cover_nov61The Adventures of SahebaN:Biography of a Relentless Warrior
A novel by Fauzia Rafique
Libros Libertad 2016
The story of a woman who was forever curious about an object called ‘pee-nuts’.
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Checklists

checklists

I was walking to the nearest khokha convenience store a few blocks from my place while my mind was absorbed by my novel Saheban that I was in the process of sending to the publisher the next day. On a side street, there was an older woman with a cane walking toward me from the other end of the footpath. I got the feeling, she stopped when she saw me, and she had. For the rest of my walk on that street of young trees and new houses, I felt being observed at every step. It made me lose my focus on the novel, and I felt that funny feeling I get when meeting strangers, of being pushed into the booth of the Accused in Hollywood’s Victorian courtroom where cases were decided on the basis of various laws that I had, in my own experiential courtroom, pronounced unacceptable in the previous century.

The best way to not lose my focus was to not get effected by the uneasiness of it to the point of generating a series of reactions that I know actually cause the courtroom feeling in me. I quickened my step as if in a hurry, and reached the woman fast. I had seen her before, and we had exchanged wishing-well gestures. So, I did that again, a smile, joining of palms, bobbing of head. She did her part by accepting my greetings with a sweet smile and a wave of her hand. We came across each other, I passed her by. Success!

But No. She was speaking to me, saying something like ‘you live on that side?’ I turned back, said ‘Yes!’ and kept walking.
‘We used to live there too,’ she followed me matching my speed, came alongside, held my arm, stopped me, and said: ‘In the house next to yours. Do you live in the upper portion?’
‘No,’ I had no choice but to stop and to let her put me in her courtroom so that she could go through her checklists. ‘Main floor’, I said, surrendering to an examination that I knew I wouldn’t pass.
‘Oh, main floor basement.’ She said, checking off the first item. ‘I live in a basement too, in that house. We were living with our son but he moved to Amrika with his wife and kids, we stayed here because my husband works here. How many children?’
‘Three.’
‘Boys?’
‘Two girls and a boy.’
‘They live with you?’
‘No.’
‘All married?’
‘No.’
‘Girls must be married?’
‘No.’
‘Oh. You live with your husband?’
‘No.’
‘Who do you live with?’
‘No one.’
‘You live alone? So sorry…’
‘Nothing to be sorry about, it’s very relaxing to live on one’s own,’ I said, encouraging her to think on those lines.
‘I’ll go sit with my husband now,’ she said, giving me the verdict and moving along.

The verdict: under 23%, and this is how:

33% on Children question as in 66% for two boys and 99% for three;

0% on Married-Woman question since women not living with their husbands have either been ‘divorced by them’ or they are widows who are not good enough to find other husbands;

35% on Respectable-Woman question because of body-covering clothes and familiar ‘south asian’ mannerism;

0% on Motherhood question if neither my son nor daughters are willing to ‘take my burden’;

15% on Class question since I don’t own the property I live in, have no car or car-keys, clothing covers the body but does not establish any acknowledged power status;

50% on Ethnicity for being Punjabi but not Sikh or White.

Score: 133 out of 600, a mere 22.16% of the total. I had been ‘Aunteed’.

It’s interesting that my Uncled score is always higher- sometimes as high as 50% because most uncles usually give me some mark on living by myself as it seems to intrigue them all. But if you think that my Aunteed score is low, wait till you see what I get when Begumed.

A South Asian Begum may choose to give me 2.5% for simply standing on North American soil instead of sitting on it, and that’ll be the end of my scorecard because nothing in me would be of use to her. On the other hand, a White Begum won’t be able to locate me sitting or standing, and if she is made to pay attention to me, her radar would go fuzzy making me appear and disappear from her vision like an incarnation of some character in a hollywood box office hit on poverty-in-another-continent that she may have watched at some point in her life. I’ll get 0% when lucky.

Unlike the difference in score when Aunteed and Uncled, my score remains consistent when Begumed and Sahibed by South Asians and when Begumed and Sahibed by White, Black, Red or Yellow people: the same 2.5 and 0%.

If you ask me, I prefer being Brownbagged more than being Aunteed, Uncled, Begumed or Sahibed because at least it’s more of a general wrap and it hides me like it hides my lunch, and for sure, it’s better than being Blackburned or Nativebrowned.

This is not a complete index of Checklists I encounter, but I need to veer off of it because it’ll be unfair to not tell you about my own system of locating others in my mind.

I seem to have Signs instead of Checklists; here are a few examples. When I see a man in a non-thriftstore suit and tie or a woman wearing designer angelina-jolie clothes there emerges in my mind a STAY AWAY sign, and in most cases I do. The RUN sign appears for people using the latest academic/literary/ideological jargon or putting up a show for the camera; STOP sign appears at people singing or smiling, dancing or laughing- at a protest rally or away from it- but this is not to be confused with the red traffic stop signs that said ‘STOP Harper’ and are now saying ‘STOP Enbridge’ because those i FOLLOW; and, a STAY sign shows up if someone invites me to have a joint.
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‘Being Ditched’

fr-1980s

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Being ditched, and ditching, are common experiences for all of us. During the course of each day, we process many people through our ditching filters as we get processed by theirs. Most bring decisive results at first sight or few words at best, and the top ditching ground remains to be the class.

I have been ditched for class, race, accent, un-brandnamed clothing, City of Surrey, Pakistan, godlessness, and of course for many aspects of more personal nature. Most times i know the exact cause of ditching or being ditched, sometimes i don’t. To me, in non-abusive interactions, ditching is a right that cannot be held against the ditching party, but let me tell you, the last time i got ditched was too much: imagine being ditched by a woman friend for refusing to accept her fake plastic penis?

Now, that i have your full attention, allow me to discuss another side of ditching. When we can’t find the heart to ditch someone, we try to induce it. There’s this sweet person i know for over three decades, she’s dear to me like a younger sister but what began happening when she moved closer was that she would take hours each day either over phone or in person to deliver a monologue that went somewhat like this: ‘early morning, i fell from the balcony on concrete floor’, description of calamity for 30 minutes including all the steps she or anyone in her family had taken to save her, and then ‘I thought I’ll never breathe again BUT my God saved me’; and, she would go on and on citing tens of daily miracles from being able to make tasty biryani to finding matching shoes to getting kids to school on time, and, it was all being done- against all odds- by her God. Then toward the end, the monologue would change themes, and she would share her sadness at not having an intimate partner to enjoy sexual pleasures with. One day at the end of the monologue when she stopped and looked at me for answers, i said, ‘Since God is doing everything for you why not ask him to do this too?’ Her eyes went out of focus, and then she got up and left. Needless to say it was, and continues to be, a successful ditch-inducing strategy.

Some encounters occur in less defined or more non-traditional territories, the ditchings that ensue are not as clear or expected, and they create different ripples than the usual ones; Sometimes even pleasant. Yes, it is about the fake penis. A dear friend visited after a few years, and over wine, offered her fake plastic penis to me. It was an unexpected but generous thought, and as a single het woman i did appreciate it but appreciation did not make me accept the unusual gift because i don’t like to use fake things, penis or not. But my friend had pity in her eyes at all the other-dimension fun i was missing, and i knew it had happened; i had been ditched.

Even though it isn’t recommended by any decent human, still i am tempted to reach across the traditional after-ditch boundaries to ask my friend this one vital question:
‘What color was it?’
And then:
‘Circumcised or no?’

To welcome into this world my second novel, The Adventures of SahebaN: Biography of a Relentless Warrior (Libros Libertad, Nov 2016), stories of a heroic woman who was forever curious about a similar object called ‘Pee-nuts’.

Fauzia Rafique
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