Thoughts on Khayaban-e-Nowhere’s birthday

Published: December 1, 2011
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The comments I get online are like a window to me; whether good or bad, they help me improve my writing

This week, Khayaban-e-Nowhere turns one. Some of you will applaud while others (particularly a segment of The Express Tribune’s online readership) will repeatedly smack their foreheads against a wall, wondering what the state of Pakistani English newspapers has come to. But we will come to that in just a bit.

Khayaban-e-Nowhere has in its one year covered a strange multitude of topics. The great thing about Khayaban-e-Nowhere is that it has absolutely no particular regimen, plan or focus. It is essentially a writing space for anything under the sun. When you write about pretty much anything you begin to see – through emails and online comments, what works and what does not – what will be ignored or what will instigate a furious debate. Pakistan, cricket, religion, and (I think this is a function of it being a particular type of newspaper) women’s rights. And then, the oddly surprising ones – Pakistan School subjects like Pakistan studies and Islamiat, which a student like me takes for granted, is a fascinating topic for several. An article about a girl wanting to be an air force pilot, another about Harry Potter and one about a certain locality of my city Karachi – worked too.

And then of course, because these articles were uploaded onto the newspaper’s website, I got online feedback too, straight from the net. Here is where we come back to address that particular phenomenon.

I have been told online that I am insensitive, immature, a waste of digital space, a terrible writer, not particularly funny – and then lots of absolute class comments too:

“For the love of God, something new please”

“This should not be the personal ‘dear diary’ of a 17-year-old”

“This girl must have relatives higher up in The Express Tribune, there is no other way her work gets published.”

To which I can only say –  I wish man, I so wish my chacha (uncle) owned The Express Tribune so I could change their online comments policy, but alas…

Even when I am not checking comments religiously, friends and classmates do.

“Why are anonymous people so mean?” said one of them.

They help me catch up on things I sometimes wish I’d miss –  one person commented on my picture on how he liked “chicks with glasses” (how enlightening) and another who on an article about my best friend wanting to be a pilot wrote back “Please tell your friend I am single”- much to her horror, and my entire grade’s amusement.

And yet, there is something so brilliant about online comments. They are a window into a world of anonymity.

If someone saying I am good, and does not know me from the next person on the street, well I better be amazing. And if someone says that was the worst thing they have ever read, well it is time to drag out the pen and paper and write something else.

This article is not about whether I am so bad that I cannot string sentences together or I am so good I’m the next J K Rowling (by the way, the person who commented that, I took a screenshot of that comment and it is now my screensaver. Yes, I am not afraid to admit that anymore.) The point is that if there is one thing I am glad of it is of these very extreme reactions. The best thing anyone can tell an 18-year-old is that the world does not revolve around you. People tend to think that I do assume the world revolves around me, because I am, whatever I may write about, an A Level student and this carries some heavy ‘she is too young’ connotations. This means that there will be those who comment on every post “I hate this teenager’s personal diary”, no matter that this particular personal diary is interested and has written about hypocrisy, racism and politics. And there will be those people who shall be extremely nice, but in a slightly condescending way, “Hey guys, be nice, she is only a kid after all.” If only I were middle-aged with a quiet unassuming job like marketing manager at X company, who blogged occasionally on the weekends. Sadly, however I am columnist who is trying to get into college and with a smiling, glasses wearing, picture to boot. (And to those who comment on my picture, I…I mean…just…stop).

Ah well. Here is to the new kid in school who goes “Are you that writer?”- thank you for your appreciation, it means everything. And here is to all those who raise their eyebrows and scoff when they see the column in the paper, or the link on the website – thank you for your criticism, both constructive and odd.

You keep me sane and wanting to write better, one star rating and all.

Meiryum Ali

Meiryum Ali

A freshman at an ivy league school who writes a weekly national column in The Express Tribune called "Khayaban-e-Nowhere".

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.