For Her, and For Her

This is one version of the story of my survival, in 4 parts.

The first time, I didn’t really get to meet her.
She was gone before I knew it.
I knew she was smart, because.
She Escaped.
A man.
Who told me that if I said anything to anyone, he would hurt my sister.
I thought if I said a word,
he would never stop coming in at night to watch me sleep.
Perhaps if I kept really quiet, he would stop coming in when I was about to take a bath.

I felt dirty For Years.
Every year, for four years, it was the same.
But the year that She Escaped, that’s when
I Understood.

I refused to go back there.
My grandfather died a few months after The Escape.
My grandmother died a year later.
After that,
The Girl Who Escaped,
She came to me and said,
“Now, It’s time to speak.”

My mother was on her knees, grasping my leg, begging for forgiveness.
I could not predict my survival from day to day.
My father decided to travel there.
I think The Girl Who Escaped, I think she went with him.
When my father returned Home, we were his only family left. He let all of them go, when they refused to stand with him. He has been isolated from them ever since.

I still think sometimes, “Can I forgive myself, for doing this to my father?”

But The Girl Who Escaped,
She reminds me,
My father chose Me.

The day I met another survivor.
She was a 72 year old black woman who lived in Albermarle County, Va.
Over a glass of sweet tea, she told me the story of her survival, in one part.
It took her three minutes.

I poured myself another glass.
With each sip, I received a blessing.
I told her the story of my survival.
It took me
thirteen hours.

More recently, I met Her.
When she came, I wasn’t scared.
No pain.
No anger, not even a little bit of rage.
Not even a drop of guilt.

When she came, I was happy.
From indiscretion, from deviant behavior.
From joy.
From the very core of my sexual being.

This time,
No family.
Only Faith.
Amidst my conversations with God,
In a matter of days
She left before I knew her.

But now I know her.
She is The Girl
Who Gave Me Choice.

Chay is For…

In the Urdu language, the letter chay is used as a euphemism for derogatory or taboo expressions. Some of these expressions are “choot” (vagina) and “chootia” (lit. of the vagina, but signifying stupidity that ought to be dismissed). The use of such expressions of insult is pervasive in the Urdu language and extremely problematic. In its original and vernacular usage, these words and their euphemism, “chay”, associate women with that which is imbecilic, derogatory, bad, taboo and wrong.

We have named our magazine Chay as an act of resistance to the popular pejorative meaning attached to words like “choot” and “chootia”. It is both an attempt to reclaim our language and engage with some of its sexist trappings.

We understand that the sexism, patriarchy and heterosexism that are imbued in our language are only reflective of the complex, larger socio-cultural, political and economic conditions that persist in our society. Therefore, any project of re-appropriation and reclamation of not only language but also our place in society is far greater than just naming a magazine. But Chay is at the very least an initiation: an open invitation for fostering discourse that displaces the dominant and normative conceptions about womanhood, sex, sexuality, masculinity and so much more.

We want “choot” and all other words like it to be identified with empowerment, self-actualization and life-giving rather than weakness, filth and diminution. More than anything then Chay Magazine is a project of resistance, redefinition, reappropriation, reclamation and reinterpretation of the dominant discourse so that we can be fully empowered citizens of our country, our societies and our lives.

All About the Conversation

On November 3, 2007, President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, declared “Emergency Plus” in the country and used it to curtail basic rights such as freedom of speech, movement and expression. The plethora of new, private television channels that had, for most of a decade, dazzled our minds by their sheer numbers, were shut down. The talk shows, the commentary shows, the cooking shows – all gone. And so, the Conversation was gone.

November 3 doesn’t have any direct relevance or causal relationship to the creation of Chay Magazine. I only mention it because it made me aware of something: in my entire lifetime, I had never before seen in Pakistan this level of open discourse. It wasn’t that, pre-Emergency, we spoke of everything in the world, freely, openly, happily. But we had started conversations: politics, covert military operations, health, marriage, women’s rights, law, HIV awareness. We had started conversations about these things. And then that conversation was killed.

Briefly. That level of silence could not be tolerated and, in a month, Emergency was lifted, albeit leaving behind some serious legal scars, such as stricter media regulations. But as the channels resumed transmission, the new rules were bent, modified, ignored and eventually broken. And we saw that that was good.

It was made clear, however, by this event that freedom of speech and expression in Pakistan cannot be taken for granted. The Conversation will not always survive. Intrepid reporters may now be going into FATA agencies to interview the local Taliban, but this will not be allowed forever. Things in Pakistan are volatile and ephemeral, and one mustn’t assume that the good now will continue on as a good. Or indeed the bad continue on badly.

Now is as good a time as any to talk about things we think are important. We want to start a conversation that we have heard snippets of in living rooms and grocery stores, on TV talk shows and in long form dramas, in the domestic difficulties of people we know and the shocking scandalous travails of people we don’t know, except through rumour mill.

We want to talk about sex and sexuality. Particularly, its politics. Particularly the power  it has over us, the power to keep us quiet about violences that happen in our homes, the power to kill us with diseases we are not educated about or cannot prevent; how it is used for coercion and how it is meant to be an expression of pleasure, love and respect. We want to talk about sexual rights and sexual health, sexual orientation and gender roles, sexual violence and sexual abuse, sexual empowerment and sexual happiness. We want to talk about family and relationships, love and marriage, homosexuality and heterosexuality, heteronormativity and perceived deviance, religious sanction and religious condemnation, freedom of choice and autonomy over one’s own body.

In short, we want to talk about what people living their everyday lives deal with every day, but are not allowed to talk about because we, as Pakistanis, have not allowed sex and sexuality to enter the Conversation.