Before She Sleeps is a September 2018 Best New Release at Audible.com

via Editors Select | September 2018 | Audible.com

I’m just so darned pleased about the beautifully-narrated audiobook version of Before She Sleeps being chosen as a best new release in speculative fiction by the editors over at Audible.com.

The book is at the top of the list in best new releases in Asian-American literature over at Amazon.com, too.

Why don’t you check out the audiobook, which is voiced by the amazing talents of artists and actors Deepti Gupta, Soneela Nankani, Lameece Isaaq, Allyson Johnson, and Fajer Al-Kaisi? It’s free with a trial of Audible, if you’re an Amazon member.  I’ve been listening to it myself since it was released, and I can hardly believe I wrote these words, they sounds so good performed out loud. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Where are the women on the EAC? An open letter to the PM

To: Mr. Imran Khan, Prime Minister
Mr. Asad Umar, Finance Minister
Mr. Arif Alvi, MNA and presidential candidate

It makes no sense at all that there are no women on the newly formed Economic Advisory Council. Surely even one woman economist must be included to advocate for Pakistan’s women in economic decisions. I urge the government to reconsider this decision.

If you do not include women at the highest levels of economic decision-making, not only will you strike a negative blow for gender inclusion in governance, but you will miss out on understanding the impacts of your decision on Pakistan’s female population.

A quick perusal of State Bank officials and LUMS professors reveals a gender imbalance at top levels of management/academia, which is not unusual in our gender-unbalanced society. But there are qualified women that should be included, if not on the main board, then as advisors.

So far this government has failed to include women in adequate numbers at the federal and provincial level. I would have expected an increase in gender equality, not a decrease, with all the talk of PTI being more progressive than its predecessors.

Including women is not about tokenism, unless you consider 52% of Pakistan’s population to be a token. No woman would have been selected without merit. But women MUST be included – and there are government quotas for women’s representation that should be followed. Otherwise, women will suffer under this government. Men must not be thought of as the default and women as the afterthought in our nation.

They may be thought of as a population to be ‘protected’ and ‘safeguarded’ but they will not be empowered by being disincluded from decision-making, governance, and power.

Research has shown that including women in governance, in economics and business, results in a more prosperous country than one which excludes women from these areas. According to research conducted by McKinsey, the global economy itself would grow by 26% if men and women were equal in working life. But one of Pakistan’s biggest economic challenges is how to bring more women into the work force. Who better than women on the EAC to represent them and advocate for their inclusion in the budget, in planning, and in resource allocation? Please heed the research and do the right thing.

Sincerely,

Bina A. Shah

Karachi, Pakistan

NB: People have been asking me if there are any competent women at all in Pakistan to hold a position on the EAC. Here is a list of contenders, all qualified and at par with the current members of the EAC:

  1. Dr. Shamshad Akhtar – served as caretaker minister for Finance in June 2018
  2. Dr. Shahida Wizarat, Economist at IoBM
  3. Sadia Malik, Economist at York University
  4. Shahnaz Kazi Senior Economist at the World Bank
  5. Dr Zeba Sathar head of Pakistan’s Population Council
  6. Bilquess Raza at the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics in Islamabad (deceased?)
  7. Dr Faiza Mushtak (IBA)
  8. Dr. Nausheen Anwar (IBA)
  9. Dr. Hadia Majid (LUMS)
  10. Dr. Shandana Khan Mohmand (Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex)
  11. Dr. Aliya Khan (QAU)
  12. Dr. Aisha Ghaus Pasha (PhD Leeds) – MNA and Phd in Economics from Leeds U.
  13. Dr. Rehana Raza (Cambridge)
  14. Dr. Monazza Aslam (Rhodes scholar)
  15. Dr. Saher Asad (LUMS)
  16. Dr. Freeha Fatima, Economist at the World Bank
  17. Dr. Reehana Rifat Raza, senior development economist at the World Bank
  18. Saadia Zahidi (WEF)
  19. Maniza Naqvi, World Bank
  20. Sima Kamil, CEO and President of UBL
  21. Tahira Syed, President of First Women’s Bank
  22. Noor Aftab, President International Women’s Economic Council
  23. Roshaneh Zafar of Kashf Foundation – microfinance and women’s empowerment
  24. Jehan Ara, President of Pakistan Software Houses Association
  25. Maheen Rahman, CEO of Alfalah Investments
  26. Ms. Musharaf Hai, Ex-CEO of Unilever and MD of L’Oreal

 

And let’s not forget who’s the head of the IMF – Christine LaGarde, who just happens to be… a woman.

 

(Thank you to Sehar Tariq and Erum Haider for their additions to the list (nos. 8-19) and Mushtaq Rajpar for 20. This list will expand as  I hear of more candidates.)

Woman as Giving Tree

I’ve been reading Kate Manne’s “Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny” and came to the chapter about misogyny and entitlement. Manne writes that there are masculine-coded goods that a man is entitled to, and feminine-coded goods that a woman owes or ought to give.

A man is entitled to, among other things: social positions of leadership, authority, influence, money, other forms of power, social status, prestige, rank, reputation, standing, pride, freedom from shame and lack of public humiliation.

A woman owes or ought to give: affection, adoration, indulgence, simple respect, love, acceptance, nurturing, safety, security, safe haven, kindness, compassion, moral attention, concern, care, and soothing. (all this is separate from tangible reproductive and domestic services  which may be somewhat evenly divided in some heterosexual partnerships).

So when I read about how movie star Jennifer Garner drove her estranged husband actor Ben Affleck to his third stint in rehab after a week of partying with a Playboy model and ordering liquor to his home, I couldn’t help but see the connection.

I tweeted the following in the evening:

Kate Manne wrote about how misogyny will make people lash out if they don’t feel they’re getting the feminine-coded goods they feel they deserve, like Elliott Rodgers, who shot dead five sorority women because he felt he deserved sex but wasn’t getting it.

But apparently, people will lash out even if you question whether or not women should deliver unconditional care and safety to men under any and all circumstances. I began to receive a torrent of abuse from both men and women who told me I was a bitch, trash, cunt, garbage human being, had no compassion, didn’t understand addiction, was single, ugly, and so on and so forth. Someone even took a screenshot of my tweet and posted it on Instagram, so that more people could comment on my cruelty.

People became outraged and told me that Affleck was the father of Garner’s children, that she loved him still, she wanted him to heal for the sake of her children, and so on and so forth. One can still want these things for one’s addict ex-partner. The addict ex-partner is a grown man and responsible for creating a relapse plan that involves medical professionals, addiction counsellors, and possibly a trusted family member that doesn’t include an estranged ex. But everyone loves a woman who acts the way society thinks she should – selfless, endlessly giving, loving and attentive.

The problem isn’t even what happens with Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck. I see no ex-boyfriends of Heather Locklear or Demi Lovato coming in with Bible and Range Rovers to rescue them and deliver them to rehab. Even Wilder Valderrama, after visiting Lovato for a few weeks, decided to cut off contact because it might hinder her recovery, meaning there is a limit to how much care a man can be reasonably expected to deliver to a woman.

The few women  married to or partners of alcoholics who messaged me to tell me that they are never allowed to put down the burden will always be overlooked in the face of society’s rules about what women should and shouldn’t do. Addiction is a terrible disease and yet the numbers show far more men than women are alcoholics, so women carry this burden disproportionately.

In Pakistan, where I live, I have seen countless women from lower socio-economic backgrounds with at least six children forced to go out and work because their husbands are drug addicts. They are responsible for providing care and financial support to the entire family, without even the hope of treatment programs that are available to so many in developed countries.

In short, a woman should be a giving tree until she dies. The Giving Tree was a creation of Shel Silverstein in a famous children’s book, and you can read more about its relation to femininity here.

What have I learned from this episode? That people will call a woman a saint and an angel when she delivers the goods. They shower her with praise for being infinitely loving and caring. But should she step back, or set a limit or a boundary, and society will quickly turn her from an angel into a monster and censure her for being heartless. It would take about five seconds for Garner and all women like her to go from being saints to bitches should she ever choose to turn off the faucet of endless giving.

Are Feminist Dystopias The Next Big Trend In Fiction?

I’m thrilled to be featured in this essay by Elena Nicolaou, writing for Refinery29, along with Christina Dalcher, whose novel Vox is making a lot of waves.

“Bina Shah’s novel, Before She Sleeps, out August 7, is an indication that this burgeoning new genre can continue to break ground and go beyond Atwood comparisons — so long as women writers from different backgrounds continue to envision their own worst case scenarios.”

Screen Shot 2018-08-20 at 11.20.45 PM.png
Illustration by Hannah Minn

Misogyny in Action

This column was first published in Dawn.com

A recently-published biography, The Sensational Life and Death of Qandeel Baloch by the journalist Sanam Maher, traces the life of the famous Pakistani woman from the Punjabi village where she was born as Fauzia Azeem, through her hard-fought battle to become Qandeel Baloch, Pakistan’s most well-known social media star, before she was strangled to death by her own brother. It portrays a Pakistan whose sexual repression and fascination made Qandeel Baloch famous, then destroyed her for overstepping the bounds of what that same society deemed appropriate and good behavior for a woman.

Despite the women’s protection laws passed by our Parliament, women continue to be assaulted and murdered with depressing regularity, and the perpetrators are let off with chilling impunity, as evinced in the case of Khadija Siddiqui, whose would-be murderer was acquitted even after stabbing her 23 times on Davis Road, in front of witnesses.

The brutal elimination of women through “honor killings,” domestic violence, and other forms of gender-based violence is very hard to square with our desperate attempts to elevate the position of women in our society. Why have we not been able to make a bigger dent against violence against women while continuing to claim that the protection of women is one of our highest priorities?

Women’s rights activists generally place the problem squarely within the territory of misogyny, or an innate hatred of women by men, without really being able to tear out its roots. Dr. Nafisa Shah’s Honor Unmasked: Gender, Violence, Law, and Power in Pakistan, published last year and based on research she did for her PhD thesis in anthropology at Oxford University, goes further, interpreting the phenomenon of weaponized honor as a way of maintaining power structures in Sindh.

The idea of weaponized honor supports what Cornell philosophy professor Kate Manne explores in her new book Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny. She proposes a different definition of misogyny, generally understood as a broad hatred of or prejudice against women. This “native conception,” Manne argues, doesn’t account for men who say that they don’t hate women, and yet still behave in ways that are harshly punitive towards them. We see this in action all the time in Pakistan: men who claim to “respect” women, place them on a pedestal, avow love for female family members, but rain abuse, threats, and violence on them when they “disobey” or “defy” them (disobedience and defiance as defined by them, too).

Misogyny is not a psychological phenomenon — a man’s negative feelings towards women in general — but rather a force in action: a controlling, policing force that men and women employ in a sexist society to keep women in check. Sexism, says Manne, is the belief that man is superior and woman inferior; that men are strong and women weak; and that because of these “facts”, women are best confined to house and home. Misogyny is the mechanism, through emotional, mental and physical violence, but also by the creation of laws, societal and cultural strictures, and institutions to ensure women stay in that inferior position, and that patriarchal power structures remain intact.

We need look no further than the boundaries of our own nation to see how true this updated version of misogyny is. Tribal codes, discriminatory laws, sky-high rates of domestic violence, all work together to control and police Pakistani women, even as men claim to love their mothers, sisters, daughters and wives, as the protectors and guardians of women. But in return for this “protection”, women must remain caregivers, helpmeets, domestic servants. The moment a woman steps out or speaks up, outperforms men or defies patriarchal norms, we reach out to hold her down and pull her back, and we punish her gravely – with scoldings, ostracism, physical violence and even death.

By this definition, we are all misogynists. We delight in censuring women who don’t dress the way a “good” woman dresses. We take the men’s side in sexual harassment scandals such as the one between Meesha Shafi and Ali Zafar, because we relish the idea of a “bold” woman being put in her place by a man, and we want to demonstrate that we are “good” women in the patriarchy. When a woman is beaten by her husband, we ask what the woman has done to provoke the violence from the man. When a woman must work to earn money and feed her family, we call her a bad mother.

Even the recent dismissal of Salman Sufi as Chairperson of the Chief Minister’s Special Reforms Unit, who was overseeing several useful initiatives to help women empower themselves, can be seen as misogyny in action. Political motivations may have been behind his dismissal, but the end result is a negative impact on the lives of the women he was helping to empower.

We may or may not hate some women, or all women, or none at all. But ending violence against women is only possible when we examine how we all do our part to police women and make sure they know their place, and stay in it.

Who Should Pakistani Women Vote For?

Pakistani women’s rights analyst Rafia Zakaria wrote in CNN about how Pakistani women face impossible electoral choice between PTI’s Imran Khan and PML-N’s Maryam Nawaz Sharif.

Zakaria writes: “Pakistani women now face a choice. Should they continue to support a political party led by a woman convicted on corruption charges — or vote for a party led by a man with scant regard for women’s rights?”

While I appreciate the points in the piece I’m not comfortable with framing the election as a binary choice between Imran and Maryam Nawaz Sharif.

Unfortunately, it’s fairly obvious that women’s rights are subject to political manipulation throughout Pakistan. Despite its trumpeting about women’s empowerment, the PML-N isn’t interested in protecting women when it really matters. Yesterday the caretaker government removed Salman Sufi as the head of the Special Reforms Unit in Punjab. Sufi was heading up a few women-centered initiatives, including the VAWC (largely cosmetic in nature, concentrated on “resolving” cases after the violence has taken place, and based on the ineffective Violence Against Women act which does not criminalize gender-based violence) and Women on Wheels – a scheme to get more women on motorcycles in Lahore.

Cosmetics aside, a party needs to have more women leaders than a figurehead who is near the top, and Maryam Nawaz merits more comparison to Ivanka Trump than she does to Benazir Bhutto.

PTI is hopeless when it comes to women, and its leader is, in my opinion, a chauvinist, despite the attempts by the PTI to paint him as a champion of women’s empowerment. I don’t think either will serve the needs of Pakistani women, to be honest. It’s pretty galling for women’s rights to appear on page 26 of an election manifesto or last in a list of issues after tourism and sports. Pakistani women should look beyond cosmetics in this party as well; where are the women leaders in the PTI, and do they really have any power, or are they just symbolic?

The best bet for women may well turn out to be the PPP, which has historically been the most secular and progressive of all Pakistan’s parties, in which Benazir’s younger daughter Aseefa is campaigning visibly and successfully, and which has women in the highest echelons of party leadership. Their recent manifesto puts women’s rights and empowerment at the top of the list. They were behind BISP, the Benazir Income Support Program (Marvi Memon served as its head under the PML-N government. Under Memon’s leadership, BISP has garnered world attention, but it still has its flaws and has been accused of corruption and other failures).

There are 171 women running in general elections (not on reserved seats) out of whom the PPP has given the highest number of party tickets. Or, women could put their faith in an independent candidate who pledges to protect women’s rights. There are a lot of grassroots candidates, men, women and even trans, who I would vote for. Jibran Nasir in NA 247, for example, or Omar Soomro in Jacobabad; Sunita Parmar in Umerkot PS-56 in Islamkot.  (Parmar is a very vocal critic of the PPP and of BISP; check out her views in the video).

Yet as political commentator Ghazi Salahuddin remarks, “the women elected on reserved seats or through the Senate who are the ones who usually end up highlighting women’s issues in National Assembly and Senate.” This is actually the formula that has seen most pro-women legislation make it through, with women uniting across party lines.

Still, our biggest problem as Pakistani women is not who to vote for, but the obstacles that we still face in getting to vote in the first place. According to Qurratulain Fatima writing for TRT, there is a voting gap of 12 million voters; women still need to be issued NIC cards quickly in order to close the gap, and it’s unlikely NADRA will be able to do this in time. Then, there are always the Islamic hardliners who try to convince men not to let their women vote because it’s “unIslamic”. We even had a lunatic assuring everyone that it was unIslamic to even vote for a woman.

Fatima observes: “Still, steps can be taken now to empower Pakistani women. For starters, better gender-segregated data could help the ECP and other organizations design more effective solutions. Political parties could also help by conducting voter registration drives targeting women, and officially sanctioned messaging campaigns could encourage women to register and families to assist them. Finally, religious scholars could work with election officials to help dispel misconceptions about female voting. Most important, all of these activities should be continuous and not limited to election years.”

*Disclaimer: I have no preference for any political party, am not a member of any party, and cannot even vote because my voter registration was erroneously listed as Lyari whereas that is not where I live in Karachi. I have asked NADRA to rectify the situation but no response.

 

On Reading Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War

I’ve just finished reading Brothers of the Gun, by Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple. I’m not reviewing it here; this review in the CJR is a good place to start if you want to learn more about the book, the account of four or five years in the life of Raqqa resident-turned-international-journalist Marwan Hisham: Graphic memoir illustrates new frontiers in ISIS coverage – Columbia Journalism Review.

My interest in Syria began through the work of British-Syrian writer Robin Yassin Kassab, who I met six years ago in Karachi at the literature festival. The revolution was a year old, and it hadn’t yet been horribly overtaken by Islamist groups, jihadis, and then ISIS and foreign players. I followed the events in Syria, met more Syrians, became interested in the work of the Karam Foundation. I have no personal investment in the Syrian War, or the country itself, but what has happened to Syria is the biggest tragedy of the 21st century, and it is impossible to ignore.

Brothers of the Gun is the story of that takeover, seen through the eyes of a young man, who along with his friends Nael and Tareq, finds his life turned upside-down by revolution and then war. This is the story of people who attempted to live normal lives, as their homes were being blown to bits around them, as enslaved women were paraded in front of them, as European jihadis invaded their land and established the Islamic State.

Hisham quickly switches into survival mode, to match “Raqqa settings”, where you have to think ten steps ahead of the jihadis and ISIS in order to stay alive. All this while dodging aerial bombardments and the indignities of siege, starvation, exodus. I turned every page wondering how it was possible that this young man managed to stay alive. His answer would be “destiny”, but not in the romanticized imagining of destiny. As he defines it, destiny is “what I could have avoided but dared not.”

The story is enthralling. The language is simple, concise, clear. It is not sentimental or romantic, although once in a while Hisham goes into an extended rhapsody for something made all the more beautiful for having lost it: freedom, family, normality, life. He is matter-of-fact about his cynicism. Nothing is sacred to him – not religion, not the rules of ISIS, not the time he spent in religious school. Everything is observed wryly, with the occasional wicked swerve into gallows humor or just the absurdity of everyday life. I almost felt guilty for laughing while reading this book.

The exquisite artwork of Molly Crabapple brings an extra layer of depth to the story. The CJR review rightly says that with the inclusion of the drawings: “The resulting collaboration hacks war reporting as many of us have known it, and grants new access for an audience whose members include art lovers and Islamic State analysts. Together, they breathe life into a crucial period of history and ensure that it will never be forgotten.”

Crabapple has done something extraordinary with these illustrations, beyond the approving words of the CJR. While Hisham’s voice is a wearily cynical one, Crabapple’s — through her pen — is warm, empathetic, and outraged. Every drawing is a mini-Guernica, showcasing the horrors of the war, big and small. The portraits of the people are what hurt the most: the Yazidi woman with the red shawl, a baby at her breast, captured and forced into sex slavery. Tareq, on the cover, playing the violin on his modified Kalashnikov. The child toting his father’s weapon, being groomed as a future lion cub of the Caliphate.

There is no fairy-tale happy ending to this book. There is an exit, there is an ending, there is a new beginning for Hisham, and there is an end to ISIS in Raqqa. Not all of these things happen in the pages of this memoir. There are many things that happen in its pages that you wish you had never read. But for those of you who are brave enough not to look away, this is the book for you.

 

Exploring Pakistan’s musical landscapes with Coke Studio Eleven

In the last ten years, Coke Studio Pakistan, the hit musical platform television show, has become an international sensation. Previous producers Rohail Hyatt and Strings married the traditional forms and performers of Pakistan with well-established pop and rock stars, creating an electrical new sound that swiftly became the emotional and psychical soundtrack for a new Pakistan in the 21st century.

But with the start of its second decade, the previous producers of Coke Studio, The Strings, have handed over the reigns to two newcomers, Ali Hamza and Zoheib Kazi, for the upcoming eleventh season. Does the new duo have what it takes to continue the dream and push it to new boundaries in 2018 and beyond?

Innovative and inspiring, Coke Studio Pakistan has showcased emerging musical talent, spawned similar program formats as far afield as the Middle East and the Philippines, and most importantly, united millions of Pakistanis through a passion for music at home and abroad. Coke Studio is watched by people in 132 countries around the world; this is expected to go up to 150 countries, with 68% of the one billion minutes of Coke Studio content watched outside of Pakistan. The stakes are high for the new team, but they have the answer in the form of a new vision for the show.

Hamza and Kazi are eager to explain it to me in a Skype interview conducted between Karachi and Chicago with me: 9 pm for them, 11 am for me. It’s hard to feel close to Pakistani musical traditions at such distances, but Coke Studio has been able to bridge all divides: ethnic, geographical, and generational. My own older relatives living here in the United States talk to me eagerly about the latest acts and songs, often before I’ve even had a chance to hear them.

Thanks to the power of sound, the excitement of discovery, and a strong need among Pakistanis of all ages for love and unity, it’s the fans who have made Coke Studio what it is today, and there’s a strong sense that expectations for the new season are higher than ever before. And nobody feels the weight of responsibility of the Coke Studio legacy more heavily than the two young new producers themselves.

Keeping the Coke Studio format fresh has been one of Hazma and Kazi’s main concerns, along with questions of their roles as the new arbiters of a nation’s musical heritage. Both men have been involved with management and production of Coke Studio for several years now; Kazi worked on the show from Seasons 3-9, before taking time off to produce multimedia musical projects Ismail Ka Urdu Shehar and Fanoos. Ali Hamza co-founded the rock band Noori and worked on a solo project called Sanwal, before becoming a musical director of Coke Studio for Season 10.

Recently a rumor went around Twitter that Coke Studio was “involved with politics” and that the producers were preparing an election song for a political party (Coke Studio released an official statement refuting the rumors). But Hamza and Kazi are uncompromising in their position as fans of the show themselves, not tastemakers or kingmakers: “We see our involvement with Coke Studio very much as a matter of ethics and transparency. No act gets on Coke Studio without merit.”

That’s why one of the most exciting aspects of the new season had to be created and produced with strict secrecy and confidentiality. The producers realized that not only was social media the source of their giant fan base but could also be a rich source of new talent. So in addition to the usual studio sessions in an already familiar format, Coke Studio Season 11 features a new module called Coke Studio Explorer, which the producers call a “journey of how we discover untapped talent and unheard voices in the cultural soundscape of Pakistan.”

They embarked on a search all over Pakistan for those voices. Again, the role of social media is apparent in their quest: they used the Internet to find artists whom they then sought out in person, from the Kalash Valley and Muzaffarabad, Kashmir in the north, the rough lands of Balochistan to the west and the deserts of Sindh in the south. They used mobile recording to capture image and sound;

They harnessed the power of mobile recording to capture image and sound, using technology to tap into the age-old tradition of storytelling. This relays not just the music, but the people behind the music and their struggles and triumphs along the way. It anchors the artists in the context and culture of Pakistan; their own passion a common thread running across all the multitudes of cultures and identities in this diverse nation.

Kazi and Hamza also went on Instagram to discover what was out there on the “vast terrain of the Internet.” One of their ambitions for the Coke Studio Explorer module was to showcase the ways in which Pakistanis are using the power of social media to put their music out in the world. However, they are adamant that they don’t want people to start thinking of Coke Studio as a talent incubator or launch pad to fame along the lines of The Voice or The X Factor.

“We don’t want them to see appearing on Coke Studio as the end, but rather as a means to an end,” Hamzi and Kazi tell me. By traveling to see the musicians in their own environments, the producers were better able to tell the stories of the artists, while avoiding the mass hysteria that a nationwide call for auditions would create. In this way they believe they can remain true to the original vision of Coke Studio as a musical fusion project that spreads hope and positivity among Pakistanis through the mediums of art, poetry, music, and instrumentation.

Five prodigiously talented performing acts have made it to the first ever Coke Studio Explorer segment. First, there are two Kalash girls, Amrina and Ariana (who changed her name from Farsi Gul to Ariana in honor of her idol, Ariana Grande). Next up is Muzaffarabad’s Altaf Mir, known as “Qasamir”, who interprets the poetry of Manzoor Ahmed Khan while playing the traditional Kashmiri instrument, the Tumbaknaeer.

Shamu Bai and her younger brother Vinshu come from rural Sindh, and perform the traditional Hindu devotional songs called bhajans. A trio of throat singers, Mangal, Darehan and Shayan, bring the Baloch tradition of “Nar Sur” to Coke Studio, relating folk tales with roots to the nomadic traditions of Central Asia. And finally, an Instagram discovery comes in the form of Mishal Khawaja, a Toronto resident whose unique brand of singer-songwriting draws its inspiration from her Pakistani roots.

After speaking to the producers and reading the press releases, I get to do something very special: watch the songs before they go on air. I’m sworn to secrecy, so I feel an illicit thrill as I open up the first clip, the promo.

The scenes unfold before my eyes, stutter-cut shots of the producers traveling into the snowy mountains of Chitral, interspersed with the faces of the musicians –Ariana and Amrina wearing headphones over their traditional headdresses, the Baloch tribesmen swirling in the rhythms of a circular dance, Shamu Bai and Vishnu walking in their village with the children following behind them. This is a visual and aural treat, a Humans of Coke Studio approach that immediately hooks you both through the ears and the heart. It is, in a word, dynamite.

Ariana and Amrina’s segment shows the producers making the tough journey up to Chitral in the depths of winter to find an indigenous female Kalash act; it incudes conversations with the girls; technical setup and soundchecks, and interactions with the people of the village. And then there’s the song itself, Pareekh, which feels almost like a community effort, with input from all the women of the village watching the proceedings. It smashes preconceived notions of the “oppressed” women of Pakistan, showing instead traditional women who are bold, outspoken, and fully confident in their ability to create art.

Another clip follows the producers going to Sohbat Pur in Balochistan to record the throat singers Mangal, Darehan and Shayan. The producers acknowledge that they would never have been able to find the authentic sounds of the nation by staying in the studio; getting out and about in the country to go to the source breathes new life into the tried-and-tested format of the studio recording. The villagers meet the producers with the legendary respect and hospitality of the province, and are present at the recording session of the song Naseeba, a beautiful testament of how music and performance function as the soul of a community.

These are only two examples of what’s ahead for viewers of Coke Studio Explorer: the five episodes are replete with musical and cultural treasure of the kind that has just been lying in wait for discovery. Ali Hamza and Zoheib Kazi have taken the extra step in bringing these stories to our television screens. They’re the explorers who have scoured the length and breadth of Pakistan, found examples of musical talent in every province, and in doing so, have told the story of Pakistan. Boosted by this affirmation of who we are and where we come from — the fields, the mountains, the villages and the streets — the sounds of a nation become the spirit of a nation, and Coke Studio looks set for another successful season ahead.

Here’s a sneak peek at the first song released by Coke Studio 11, “Pareek” by Ariana and Amrina of the Kalash Valley. Enjoy…

Khalida Brohi’s I Should Have Honor

Today, I’m presenting a guest post by Pakistani activist Khalida Brohi. Hailing from a Brauhi family from Balochistan, settled in upper Sindh, Khalida was lucky enough to have a father who supported her education. But she witnessed the terrible tradition of honour killing in her family when a cousin was killed for falling in love with someone of her own choice. She created the Sughar Foundation, an organization that helps other young women to escape that fate.

Her memoir I Should Have Honor: A Memoir of Hope and Pride in Pakistan is being published by Penguin Random House this fall.


I Should Have Honor

A Memoir of Hope and Pride in Pakistan

 

Honor is a very sensitive topic in Pakistan. Honor can raise someone from the ashes and kill a living person to dust. Honor is the most important possession in our tribal and semi- tribal societies.

I belong to a tribal community in Balochistan, Pakistan, and we have a saying in my village: even if we have nothing, we should have honor. Honor is more valuable than all the money in the world. Which is why it is so important to ask: what is honor? Growing up a girl in tribal society of Pakistan, I always knew that the honor of my father depended on me, and that his honor mattered the most, but I never understood what exactly that meant. I knew of hushed stories of wives dishonoring their husbands and daughters dishonoring their fathers, but no one told me as a child what they did to deserve such a dishonorable status. Until one day when my father called me into his office and sat me on his lap. He asked me the one question that I dreaded most:

“Khali, do you know how you will dishonor me?” His tone was both gentle and concerned. My mouth went dry. I could hear my own breathing, and my vision began to narrow. I had no idea. I only knew that what ever he said would be scary. I shook my head.

“My Khali, you will dishonor me the day you bring home bad grades.”

Did I hear him correctly? I thought he was going to tell me that I was grown up now and would have to stay indoors, that I would have to cover-up whenever I went anywhere, that it was improper for me to talk to any boys or men. My father that very day changed the entire definition of honor for me and with it saved me from submitting myself to the one and only definition of honor we all knew. He showed me that true honor is standing up for what we value. What helps us grow, helps us thrive and dignifies us. For him that dignity lay in educated daughters and I knew men whose dignity lay in daughters dragged outside of home by men, killed and buried like animals.

Later, my life would come to a place when I would be asked to speak up against the criminalizing of honor, when my fathers definition of honor would be questioned by his own brother, when I would meet the death of my own cousin whose only sin was to fall in love.

And so, I spent my life fighting honor crimes, I began by going out on the streets and challenging the policies thinking that’s the only way, but soon realized that what needed to be done was to go to each single man, each single woman and ask them this one question. What dignifies them and why?

In our journey towards fighting honor killings in Pakistan through my non profit Sughar Foundation, now based in United States, we have come face to face with what makes men shed all their love for that little daughter they once held and or what leads them to cry alone in the dark of the night because they can’t be unmanly and share their grief.

Honor and the lack of it became a critical subject for me when I fell in love. When I married the man I loved and years after the brutal death of my cousin, I felt like it’s time to tell her story and tell the story of honor. Three years later, I have finished writing my memoir and ready to share it with the world in the name of I Should Have Honor. Because honor is not the inheritance of men, nor is it something filthy the way it has been made to seem, honor is everyone’s gift.

My memoir published by Random House is not just the story of my cousin, but the untold stories of hundreds of women and it is the untold story of the beautiful tribal traditions that get buried under the weight of ugly crimes like honor killings.

The book is available on 4th of September 2018 but you can pre-order today here: http://bit.ly/2JZAnOZ