A powerful new anthology explores the resilience and complexity of the lives of Pakistani women
og kya kahen gay? Log hum he toh hain. (What will people say? We are the people.)
Seeing those words sufficed for me to pick the book as my next read.
The book features writings by crème de la crème of female Pakistani authors, from Soniah Kamal and Saba Karim to the mother-daughter duo Kamila and Muneeza Shamsie.
Edited by Sabyn Javeri, whose forte is thought-provoking and daring storytelling, the anthology takes a deep dive into diverse elements that riddle Pakistani society today – freedom (or lack of it), anxiety, fear, loss and life, redemption, religious extremism, political unrest, gender inequality and empowerment. All of the subjects are explored from a unique perspective, allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the lives of the characters and their struggles against societal constraints, personal demons and oppressive circumstances.
Javeri raises the question in her introduction: Who is a Pakistani woman ‘in this age of mass displacement’? What defines her? Who is permitted to be in the club? Where do they have their roots? It appears that that identities have blurred lines. They are not defined in black and white.
Ways of Being: Creative Non-Fiction by Pakistani Women documents the struggles of people who dare to confront societal norms and expectations. The characters unveil the complexities of human nature and the resilience that emerges in the face of adversity. The stories are set against the backdrop of Pakistan’s vibrant and diverse cultural landscape, providing a rich tapestry that adds depth and authenticity to the narratives. The authors’ nuanced exploration of Pakistani society transports readers to a world where they can gain profound insights into the multifaceted lives of the characters and the complexities of their experiences when dealing with pressing social disorders.
It takes courage and candour to voice the struggles of the marginalised. With varying experiences in villages in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and metropolises like London and New York, the anthology shows that the struggles are not determined by geography and generations. They may be different, but they remain as hard.
A story that resonated with me was Fear and the City by Sadia Khatri. It is about a woman’s ruptured relationship with her city, Karachi. A tale of belonging, reminiscing and anxiety-inducing memories, the story is about being in public spaces that build strong forts against unfamiliar opinions.
My other favourites were by Kamila and Muneeza Shamsie, who speak about the woes of citizenship and residing in two worlds. As women born and raised in Karachi but having spent considerable time in England, they aspire to live in a freer world. In Kamila’s story the protagonist believes that her British citizenship would gain her the freedom. However, in the end she feels betrayed. Muneeza relays her time as a fledgling student in a private boarding school in England in the 1950s.
Uzma Aslam Khan talks about the assassination of Sabeen Mahmud, a social activist brutally killed in 2015.
The themes sometimes tend to overlap but the individual stories are all unique. An important aspect of Ways of Being is its descriptive prose. Javeri has a keen eye for detail and paints vivid images of Karachi, effectively capturing the sights, sounds and smells of the city. Conversations feel candid and ordinary but have substance and lend depth to the stories. A satisfying read.
Ways of Being: Creative Non-Fiction by Pakistani Women
Editor: Sabyn Javeri
Publisher: Women Unlimited, 2023
The reviewer is a freelance journalist based in Karachi. She may be reached at email@example.com