A Letter To A Young Girl Of Pakistan
I know you are surrounded by disturbing, aggravating news on a daily basis. I know it feels as if you are staring into the blackest abyss. I know that the rage is deep within, like a fire racing through the amazon forest. I already know that I don’t have the perfect honeyed words to make it all better. However, I still want to dedicate this letter or song to you, perhaps because the heart is stubborn, doesn’t know any other way.
I know something about tears, and the way they are salt in one instant, and the entire sea in another. In a longer version of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s “Sanu Ek Pal Chain Na Awei,” you can find the sometimes overlooked lilting and smoldering refrain: “Ratee mei jalawan diva, hanjuwan dei teil da.” I remember in my somewhat estranged relationship to Punjabi, my father had bridged the gap for a golden instance, as he told me that “hanjuwan” meant tears in Punjabi. NFAK laments that “In the night, I light a candle, made of the oil of tears.”
“Is Dunia kay ghum, jaanay kab hongay kam,
Jeenay waalon p sada, be jurm o khata; Hotay jaa re hn sitam,
Jaanay kab hongay kam”
(when will the worldly woes end, the living, without any crime or err, suffering for ever; when will the woes end)
This is the night of tears, for the country, and for you, I know. Songs have metamorphosed into rendering new and unimaginable meanings. You are learning about metaphor in this manner, in a cruel and endless way. Songs are opening up to you, revealing their inner spectrums, falling at your feet.
The “sitam” – violence, suffering, – will it ever end for the certain “living”, “souls”? And the other “living souls” – who perpetrate with impunity – will they be stopped, or deterred?
Where does this end; “when will the woes end” – Ustaad Nusrat asked in his legendary voice.
You are a muse to every time Sting’s song, “Englishman in New York” is played. For isn’t your existence like a ‘legal alien’ in the streets of your own country? Some of your silence, your speaking eyes are rubbing onto the Karachi skies, some of your words of fire are raging across the streets of Islamabad. You are the ship that has sailed into unknown waters. How will anyone ever claim to know your mystery now?
“Oh, I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien…
…Be yourself no matter what they say”
Bob Marley’s famous reggae number, “No woman no cry” is oft mistaken to mean if there is no woman, there would be no crying. This is the incorrect meaning, for the real gesture is: “No, woman, no cry” asking woman not to cry – and thus it is another remembrance of you. Did you know that so many songs have been written about you? The muse, the magic, the trailblazer?
Where it’s important to ignite the rage, sometimes it is difficult to have any reaction at all. The numbness of feeling too much, turns into not feeling anything at all. Pink Floyd calls this eventual state of yours as being: “Comfortably Numb” and the song lyrics say:
There is no pain you are recedingA distant ship, smoke on the horizonYou are only coming through in waves…
Now I’ve got that feeling once againI can’t explain you would not understandThis is not how I amI have become comfortably numb…
It is perhaps an easy thing to say – that not just are you like songs, but that songs have been written for you, and this will always be so. I have always felt an equality in terms of gender, and never tried to differentiate between what I could say to boys or girls in terms of education, music and more. But at the last news I read, with yet another #Justicefor slogan, something just wrenched my heart out, and I wanted to write to you – the reader, the light, the hope and the dream of Pakistan.
There are yet those who remain, who value you and know your worth in their own way. Do not let your spirit be shattered, do not stop dreaming a life full of possibility for yourself – for that’s how you will defeat the enemy. I am thinking of yet another song, this time by Coolio: “Gangsta’s Paradise,” written about black and minority youth who grew disillusioned with the unfair socio-political status quo.
If dark despair enshrouds you, remember, then too, songs follow you, wherever you go. You are the constant muse. So here are the lyrics of “Gangsta’s Paradise” (featured in the movie “Dangerous Minds”) for my gothic girls:
Fool, death ain’t nothin’ but a heart beat awayI’m livin’ life do or die, what can I say?I’m 23 now but will I live to see 24?The way things is going I don’t know…
Keep spendin’ most our livesLivin’ in a gangsta’s paradise…
Even writing out the lyrics to this song, looking at it from an inverted mirror, that favors you – always you – I’m scolding myself for being too dark in my approach. However, I think about those of you who have suffered, and find myself at a loss of words. That there will always be books, films and songs, that life will go on. How easy it all sounds in words. How far away it must all seem at this moment. But I still want you to know: that life will go on, and this is besides the marvelous “the show must go on” that you pull off. The ‘show’ being patriarchy. The ‘show’ being how you are still supposed to follow the aggressive rules of a man-owned world view. “Little high, little low” (from Freddy’s another song Bohemian Rhapsody). The ‘show’ of how you are the tamed Kate of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” who at the end appeases her husband, Petruchio, by putting on a ‘tamed’ smile, apparently cured of her wild, rebellious ways.
Is this the real life or is this some fantasy…
no escape from reality…open your eyes…look up to the sky and see…
See you are turning into a dark romantic perhaps, and you can hear the musical tenor in the rhythm and dance of this state of being. The rain is constantly falling, and you are becoming one with the constant pouring. When you feel strongest, you shut the beautiful world inside, and turn into a legendary solitary figure:
“I’ll never let you seeThe way my broken heart is hurting meI’ve got my pride and I know how to hideall my sorrow and pain
I’ll do my crying in the rain”
The Everly Brothers
Regardless of the power of the all-encompassing rain, I hope that you will – despite all of it – still continue to speak, sing, dance, write! Be of this world, and prove in your stunning beauty that you will outlive it all. It’s important to ‘rage, rage against the dying of the light’ but it is equally important to express with those parts of yourself that you have previously loved. You mustn’t discard your creative side; it must be cherished. Look at Anne Frank, who wrote her diary against the odds of the fright of the Nazi regime, Malala who continues to breathe and laugh, even though her own love – so many of her own country-members – speak with hatred for her. Anne played with the likelihood of death, and Malala plays against ferocious and mind-numbing hatred of extremists who have wanted her dead.
Your spirit too, will go on. Contribute your verse – whatever it may be – to the story of life. There is yet a life to live.