I don’t understand…

…folks here* who hear that I’m “good at English” and so want me to join them in mocking everyone else’s English abilities.

Like, okay, let’s pretend that I believe the colonial, Western notion that English proficiency determines one’s intelligence, and that I also believe that people should only be treated well if they are intelligent or innovative or whatever and not, you know, because they’re humans and thus deserving of basic human dignity.**

Let’s pretend that I actually adhere to the same values as you, fine. But what makes you think that once I start mocking others, you’ll be safe?

I have native level proficiency in English. When I hear a sentence, I can identify exactly how it’s wrong and give you 10 ways to correct it. I don’t know grammar rules, I breathe them; they are a part of me. I write in English, I think in English (and translate into Urdu, not the other way around as you do), I dream in English, I sleeptalk in English. I went from bearing the stigma of being an ESL student to reading college-level books within the same year, at 9, leaving my haters behind. English belongs to me, though I, obviously Muslim and Pakistani as I am, never can belong to it.

How arrogant do you have to be to believe that you, who learned English as a subject or a hobby, can achieve the same level of proficiency as me, who learned English as a survival tactic? For you, English is a status symbol; for me, it was always the double-edged sword I wielded.

So yes, let’s pretend that even though English forced itself down my throat at gunpoint and I chose to swallow, I still believe those who speak English “well” to be worthy. In that case, neither your SAT score nor your online articles nor internships at English newspapers and magazines nor your grades will matter.

Your English, my friend, and thus you, would not be worthy.

 

*by “here”, I mean at my university, in my city, in my country, etc. Choose your scale as you wish; it’s all the same in the end.

**DISCLAIMER: I don’t believe that.

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Capitalism and Silence

The very nature of a capitalist society, is to create and function on a dichotomy – in which one state is desirable and the other undesirable: rich and poor, man and woman.

Our rituals, our language, our culture, our upbringing; it all hinges on upholding the dominant paradigm: as those who benefit from it wish to keep it that way, and those who suffer are made to believe that they and “their kind” either deserve that suffering or can opt out by inducing that suffering on others (rather like how the playground bully has an entourage of children similar to the ones being bullied – those children choose to become bullies in order to avoid being bullied).

As such, any dissent is considered as blasphemous, and victims are silenced through fear, derision, humiliation and – oddly – reverence. When people are reduced to caricatures, they are stripped of their humanity, and go from being complex beings to “begger”, “gold-digger”, “modest”, “slut”; either “an inspiration” or “an abomination”.

Those who pretend they are not aware of these power structures – especially while benefiting from them – will uphold them; through their actions and their behaviours. Be very wary.

Just because he’s good to you…

…doesn’t make him a good person.

Of course, this phenomenon isn’t limited to men – or well, not just to men as partners. Any time you have people in positions of power over others, you see that power being abused; that’s how we get cruel bosses and police and government officials and directors and judges and teachers. That’s why laws against abuse and discrimination exist.

Research, however, has shown a recurring trend: most abusers are men, and most of the abused are women. In the event when abusers are women, they are more likely to abuse other women than men. Most victims were described as “compassionate and kind,” “cooperative,” and “agreeable” – traits considered as feminine. And that’s not even going into the racial aspects.

So why are most abusers “masculine” and most of the abused “feminine”? The short answer: patriarchy, in which men and masculine traits are upheld as superior to women and feminine traits.

And what happens when the things you like, the way you talk, the ideas you present, the life you live is considered as “inferior”? When someone likes you as a person, they do not believe that it is because of the qualities that define “your kind”, but despite them. And so they will jump through mental hoops trying to ascribe “superior” qualities to you, as they go all their life being told that they and their way of thinking is the only correct one.

What does that mean for you though? In their eyes, you are basically separate from others of “your kind”; to them, you are not a woman, but a “better woman” or “one of the guys”. And so you have been elevated to the status of being treated as “worthy”.

For all intents and purposes, it appears as if they see you as their equal. But the ground you stand on is shaky, as your worth only comes from removing you from the experiences you gained as part of your identity – the experiences you gained as a woman.

They don’t want to hear about how much fun you had shopping, or what happened in that romcom, or how much your period sucks, or the time you got assaulted. Because those are distinctly “feminine” events, which clashes with their image of you – remember, you’re not a woman, but a pseudo-woman, as they have stripped you of your womanhood in order to “make you a better person” in their eyes.

Your worth is not measured by your own actions and behaviour, but on the importance they hold to him. There will come a time when you stop being worthy, and suddenly all of your qualities that he liked before will become the very reasons for his hate.

You don’t “take care of yourself”, you’re “vain” and “self-absorbed”; you’re not “opinionated”, you’re “loud” and “harping”; you aren’t “friendly”, you’re “a flirt”; all your abilities will now be presented back to you in as negative and, if you’ll notice, as gendered a way as possible.

Congratulations! You’re once again a woman, and thus, once again, worthy of his sexist beliefs.

A good person wouldn’t be kind only when it benefits them.

 

Art Waart

The level of disconnect that the middle and upper class, especially in Karachi, have with regards to art is astounding. They want the best food, the best clothes, the best jewellery, the best music, the best novels and poetry and movies and theatre – but they’re not happy paying for it, and they’re especially not happy when their own children wish to make it their career.

The elite class is, perhaps, a bit more tolerant, as they can afford to keep their children fed and clothed while they “make art.”

But the middle class? The very thought of their child having to live in poverty, and thus becoming “one of the (maila) awaam,” is incomprehensible, and so they push their children into careers they do not want, or have no talent for, simply because it will provide them ” a better (read as: more monetary / stable / respectable) future.”

Art as a hobby? It’s cute and fun and interesting, as long as it’s a hobby. Art as a career? Are you crazy?

In a society where status is inherently linked to money, and success is measured by how much you earn, any deviation from the path to money is considered a grave sin. That’s capitalism for you.

A major portion of this mentality is brought about by our lack of education of the arts. Despite the UN Declaration of Human Rights stating – in 1948! – that the right to enjoy the arts and participate in the culture of their community is inherent to every human being, art is taught as a throw-away subject.

Parents have no interest in the arts, and so neither do their children, and thus the community at large, leading to an overall devaluation of art and artists, resulting in less people being able to make a career of it. It’s a vicious cycle.

I am not very good at being a woman.

And it’s not just the physical aspects that I fail at (which I do) – I’m ugly and fat, and make no effort to change that via make-up or exercise or fashionable clothes (my mother can only buy me clothes and put them in my closet; she can’t make me wear the right clothes for any given event). I’m also a terrible cook; awful at making conversation; completely and utterly tactless, never knowing what to say or when to say it; loud and opinionated; have a terrible bed-side manner; irregular with chores; messy and forgetful and careless; can’t remember birthdays or favourite foods or allergies or medicines worth a damn; and – well, you get the gist.

What can I do, then? Why, loads! I’m quick at grasping concepts; wonderful at managing those under me; an okay writer and artist (in my opinion) and an above-average programmer; socially aware and active; a handy repairwoman; have a terrific professional manner; skilled at clearing up confusions; an adequate tutor; an instinctive mathematician; a quick reader; and have knowledge of numerous fields, programs, languages and cultures.

Here’s the thing though – so is every other woman I know. They can do everything that I can, and they can do it while being an amazing cook, and fun at parties, while wearing the cutest outfits and making everyone feel at home. They get good grades and learn loads all while performing household chores and making time for their families and ensuring that, you know, people don’t die because they haven’t had lunch yet or forget to take their medicine.

So no, I’m not very good at being a woman, because I’m not very good at performing the emotional labour that women do – the excess work that is the price women have to pay in order to exist in this world without censure, a tax which men seem to be exempt from.

But if I were a man, I would be exceeding expectations.

Being Enough

I was going to start this with “Am I the only one…” but, as we know, you are never the only one, because humanity has existed for so long and in such large numbers, and will continue to exist for so long and in even larger numbers, that the diversity of their experiences encompasses perhaps all our imaginations and then some.

So I know I’m not the only one, but therein lies the problem: I am not the only one, and so I am not outstanding. Everything I have done, and am doing, and will do has been done by someone already, and most likely been done better.

There are folks who defy this paradigm, but I am not one of them. I do not possess the talent, I do not possess the drive, I do not possess the potential for greatness. There are many days when I feel as if I do not even possess the ability to be good in what I do, and it is an exhausting, ever-present fear that only serves to further lower my belief in myself and in what I do.

But I try my best all the same, and I hope that it is enough.

Of Days Like Sandpaper

I came across an explanation once, that said functional depression is the kind that makes you forget the steps to a task, so your mind thinks it overwhelming. And I don’t know what kind of depression I have, or if I have it at all; if I’m not just lazy, or sleep deprived, or ungrateful, or just physically crippled.

All I know is that I can lie down in a room with every surface overflowing with old clothes and notes and used make-up bottles and stationery and technology and layers upon layers of dust and grime, and know that it is not fine yet not care anyway,

All I know is that I sleep in and can’t cook and don’t work as I am always tired and my flesh prison is always aching or not listening to me.

All I know is I skip classes or attend and don’t take notes, start projects but never finish them, makes lists and delay completing each item, again and again and again, even though I know better.

(Am I just entitled and vapid and useless? Do I not even have a reason for it?)

All I know is that I am exhausted – after I shower; after I clean; after I climb up and down the stairs once; after I wake up. Exhausted, and scared of my inability and my instability of body and mind.

To me, depression is neither as black as the void or as white and fuzzy as fog; it is simply that moment (upon moment upon moment, until it is a day in a moment) of numbness and wrongness when one puts on clothes that rub their skin strange, when one sits on their legs too long, when one writes without thinking or feeling – when words are no longer coherent descriptors, just pain sharp bright tired tired tired

Depression, to me, is not knowing what anything is, least of all your own existence.