My only escape

April 2018 I am an old woman, almost 75-years-old. My bones are weak, my skin is wrinkled, and my hair is a mane of silver. A pile of medicines cover the top of my bedside table. Most days, I don’t feel like eating them. Death weaves itself around me. I see it everywhere – in fallen leaves, in the rain, in the shadows, in people. My time here is almost done, but there’s a task still unfulfilled. Before I close my eyes forever, I have to tell my daughter the truth about my life, and her life. I’ve kept it hidden ...

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My right hand is clean

Laughter. Running around. Two toddlers and a baby having a jolly good time. Favourite place, Nani ma’s home; the room with the large windows, letting in the afternoon sun, warm and friendly, dancing around the marble floor. One disgusting teenage boy. Around 14 or 15. With yellow teeth and a hideous laugh. Watching over the children as they play. Hired for the ‘supervision’ of the baby. Looking for an opportunity to strike. And then he found one. “Do you want to play with a new toy?” He asked the little girl, who was gleefully laughing as she chased her cousin around the room. She ...

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Khalil never drank, until he did…

If there was something everyone knew about Khalil, it was that he never drank. And if there was something one could say with even more surety, it was that he especially never drank before his night shift. But tonight he had found some refuge in a bottle; a shelter from the illness of his wife, the mounting hospital bills, and the regularly decreasing amount of money he brought home. However, the newly-wed couple who had hailed his cab for the night were ignorant to the gloss in his eyes and the slur in his speech, as they put their ...

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The scars of her henna

Zarah Hussain, a 17-year-old girl from Lahore Grammar School International, won an essay competition organised by the British Royal Commonwealth Society. This is a proud moment for Pakistan and highlights how much talent we have in this country. We hope she continues her love for words and wish her all the best for the future. The following is the short story that won her the accolade: Red. Gold. Adorned in jewels, henna lacing her fingers with intricate, never ending flowers. And hidden in the henna somewhere would be written the name of her most beloved. A dream she’d dreamt since she’d seen the ring ...

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Banned Books Week: Rahi Masoom Raza’s fight to never stop swearing

This week (September 23rd-29th) is being celebrated as the Banned Books Week around the world, especially in the United States, where this tradition took inception during the Ronald Reagan era back in 1982. Concerned about violation of freedom of speech, rights activists raised the issue of banning books and their censorship, as well as the persecution of writers. Hence, it was decided that every year, the last week of September would be celebrated as the Banned Books Week. Perhaps it is no coincidence that International Translation Day falls immediately after Banned Books Week, on September 30th. At least for this humble scribe, ...

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The endless fascination of a window

Windows are fascinating. Many adventures have started with a gaze, a deep alley, a train station, or an intriguing stranger. We all share the secret hope that there is something better, across the river or over the hill. A universal wish, that we were out there somewhere, and not on this side of the window. Yes, windows are fascinating. Why else do we, as schoolchildren, stare out at the sky, yearning for the bell signalling the end of class? Cradling our chins in our pulpy hands, we looked out a pane of glass and let our imagination drift as we awaited the ...

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The silence that kills us

Perhaps it isn’t the discomfort of the narrow streets which makes liberty unbearable for us, It isn’t the sharp scents of sweat which disgust us, It isn’t the crowd which suffocates us, In fact, it isn’t the noise, the crowd or the obvious lack of quality in products, It’s the silence.   The unsaid hush when I turn to speak up to the unwanted hands up my clothes, The constant background whistles of frustrated middle-aged men, It’s the toxic masculinity which suffocates us, The vulnerability when your body turns into a canvas, Painted by obnoxious stares, Held by unholy hands.   It’s the desensitisation, the normalisation, the silence, The echoes of shameless name ...

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September 9, 2018
 Izza Malik
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It was meant to be, yet it wasn’t

On this beautiful summer morning in the Sultan Khel village, everything was in bloom. Flowers lazily tumbled along the pathways, butterflies and bees buzzed at blossoms, and the spindly green trees rose impossibly high into the clouds. For this day, Noor chose a pale lilac shalwar kameez strewn with floral embroidery, and wore her sparkly new golden heels underneath. Her black hair cascaded down her back in waves, and her big brown eyes twinkled. Noor looked beautiful – a vision to behold. No wonder all the village boys were after her. She opened the windows of her room, and breathed a lungful of ...

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Remembering Qalandar Momand: 3 short poems for the colossus of Pashto poetry

Qalandar Momand (1930-2003), whose 88th birthday fell yesterday, is regarded as an epoch-making and trend-setting personality in Pashto literature, journalism and politics in the 20th century. The most gifted of a generation that also includes contemporaries like Ajmal Khattak and Khatir Ghaznavi, Momand made his mark as an enlightened scholar, progressive writer, political thinker, social thinker, scientist, researcher and historian. It was thus rather unfortunate that Google chose to commemorate the late Urdu playwright Fatima Surayya Bajia – also born on September 1st  88 years ago –  with a Google Doodle, and not Momand; though the latter’s diverse contributions far outstrip the former, ...

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Munir and Ali needed a goat like Raju

“Mama! Mujhay subha uthana please aath bajay. Baba kay sath mandi jaunga,” Ali pleaded with his mother. (Mom! Please wake me up at eight in the morning. I have to go with dad to the cattle market) She nodded as she tucked him in lovingly. Ali had been looking forward to the Bari Eid since Ramazan. He had been extremely disappointed to find out that the Eid after Ramazan will not involve getting a bakra (goat) and bringing it home. He had insisted though. “Hum le aatay hain na! Hum bakra isi wali Eid pe le aatay!” (We should get it! We should get ...

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