PRESS RELEASE: Farah Leghari’s big comeback!

Farah Leghari has made a comeback (after four years) with her unique and elegant lawn prints. ImageThe credit of bringing Farah Leghari back into the world of style and fashion goes to Gohar Textiles Mills, a Faisalabad based company.

Farah Leghari’s collection has six distinct designs. Amongst her most popular designs are the ones infused with rich jeweled colours.

“This collection celebrates the femme fatale in all of us. Having designed for Royalty, I aspire to make each one of you feel like a ‘princess’ in my creation,” says Farah.

Farah has also participated in numerous fashion shows around the world and helped organize fundraisers abroad for charities like The Citizens Foundation.

An evening in the world of Pakistani fashion – #FPW 2012

It was such a relief to get away from the all the news and images of extremism and violence we are bombarded with every day. Attended Day 2 of the biggest fashion event in the country a.k.a. Fashion Pakistan Week 2012. Here’s a photo story of what I liked:

The designers assemble…

Debenhams is probably my new favourite for western clothing! Contemporary, smart, classy… Photo Courtesy: HocusFocus

Loved this collection by Aneeka and Salma Cheema, which combined imprints of Chitral with western styling. These were clothes you can easily picture yourself wearing on various social occasions. Photo Courtesy: HocusFocus

Sanam Chaudhri’s new collection ‘Kage’ was inspired by Shibori, a Japanese resist-dye technique. Loved seeing how Pakistani designers are seeking inspiration from textile design in other cultures. Photo Courtesy: Catalyst PR

The Noodle House @ PC

Last week I had the opportunity to try out South East Asian cuisine for the first time (I’ve only had Thai food a few times before this).

Instead of a typical PR event – like the corporate ones I am used to and was expecting – this was a more informal and entertaining one, where each guest was allowed to order food of their choice. So I got a chance to try out a number of dishes with some fellow bloggers and foodies.

Wok fried honey and sesame chicken

There were specialties from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Shanghai, Bangkok and Jakarta.

This is the first outlet of Noodle House in Karachi. Its first restaurant in Pakistan was opened in Lahore last year. According to the official press release, it’s an international brand launched in 2002, which has a number of restaurants in the Middle East.

Overall, it was a good and different dining experience (with an open kitchen and modern interiors). Anyone heading to Pearl Continental in Karachi should try it out. My favorite dish from amongst the ones I tried – also had Wasabi Prawn, vegetable fried rice, Thai beef salad with Nam Jim dressing and Chicken satay with peanut sauce – turned out to be this:

Thai chicken with cashew nut

And the World Changed

And the World Changed – Contemporary Stories by Pakistani Women

Book Review published in SouthAsia (June 2007)

And the world has changed! Not only in Sabyn Javeri-Jillani’s post-partition Karachi or in Humera Afridi’s post 9/11 New York City, but also for creative writing by Pakistani women.

There is no vast Pakistani English literature by women, to comment on. Republished in Pakistan in 2006, after its launch by Women Unlimited (New Delhi) in 2005, this anthology exhibits the kind of work that Pakistani women are doing in South Asian literature.

Nonconformity and an unconventional style seem to be the current trend. Though there is still a long way to go in terms of meeting the literary standards of world classics, the stories of this collection do represent myriad perspectives on a number of issues, especially those concerning women.

There is no single theme that the book follows. You cannot label it as ‘feminist’ prose, despite the fact that all texts are by women.

Twenty-four women, belonging to different literary backgrounds, have contributed. These include known names such as Fahmida Riaz (a political and human rights activist), Bapsi Sidhwa (whose novels revolve around the Zoroastrian community in Pakistan) and Kamila Shamsie (of Salt and Saffron fame). Some of the stories are excerpts from novels.

One is bound to notice a few similarities between the authors. All of them have lived in Pakistan as well as in the west, or still do. They write about the Pakistani people and multiculturalism is sometimes an underlying theme:

“Santa Maria, the Black Madonna, Holy Mother of Christ, Jesus, Jesus, Ya Ali! Ya Ali! Ya Hussain, Ya Hussain…” (Bloody Monday by Fawzia Afzal Khan.

Stories focus on problems as serious as rape of the mentally challenged (The Daughters of Aai by Fahmida Riaz), forced marriages (The Optimist by Bina Shah) or on lighter subjects such as the initial experiences of city life ( Look, But With Love by Uzma Aslam Khan) and The Arsonist (an excerpt from Bapsi Sidhwa’s The Crow Eaters). They provide us with a taste of present-day reality and capture the ethos of our society – such as Shahrukh Husain’s Rubies for a Dog, which comments on gender discrimination:

“Isn’t it ironic that I have to dress like a man in order to discover my potential?”

Meeting your future in-laws in a pair of jeans can be calamitous even if you are living in the west, “under the sway of western fashion and, by extension, its moral values” (A Pair of Jeans by Qaisra Shahraz).

Even young and amateur writers show sensitivity towards some social issues (that are often ignored) and provide us with some very original stories, such as Clay Fissures by Nayyara Rahman:

“It was 1953 and patriotism was still a young, strong spirit in Pakistan. People were proud of being Pakistanis. They were proud of being Muslim. They were proud of their own brown skin, which reflected wheat – the lifeblood of Pakistan. And here was I: Pradeep Sehgal, the adopted albino son of a Hindu merchant and a Eurasian seamstress.”

Muneeza Shamsie (the editor and short story writer), has previously edited A Dragonfly in the Sun: An Anthology of Pakistani Writing in English and Leaving Home: A Collection of English Prose by Pakistani Writers. She also contributes to local newspapers and magazines. In this book, she has provided us with a brief but absorbing introduction on the history of creative writing by Pakistani women (or the lack of it). She has eulogized the efforts of those women who have contributed to this form of writing (despite the lack of monetary benefits and inspiring examples), acquainted us with each contributor and has also thrown light on the impact that political upheaval in the country has had on this medium of expression.

It is interesting to note the kind of diversity that exists in our writing as well as our society. We see a close affinity with contemporary writing by Indian women (Shobha De` etc.).

These writers also lead us to new avenues (sometimes ‘experimental’)and provide ideas that can form the basis of future work in fiction. Social critique still largely seems to be the ultimate aim of writing, as mentioned in the introduction: ‘the prescriptive dictum that their work must have an extra-literary purpose, namely to “serve society”.’

– By Ayesha Hoda

Boys will be boys?

Published in SouthAsia Magazine (December 2007)

Incidents of eve teasing are on the rise in the Subcontinent, even in modern and big cities like Karachi. Despite an increase in literacy rates and general awareness, our society is still indifferent to the lack of respect accorded to women, writes Ayesha Hoda

Travelling by a public bus, clad in a western outfit and carrying drama costumes from Sunday Bazaar to Bilawal Chowrangi, was a hard decision to make. When I recounted the tale of my adventurous journey at home, I met with the angry response, “You should be more careful!”

Agreed. But the question is why? Most of the time it is not even about doing something outrageous and being the odd one out. Street sexual harassment is growing in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. The word ‘eve teasing’, which originated in India, is often used euphemistically. It is a major problem in the city of Karachi although it is rarely regarded as such.

Perhaps this is so because despite being a daily problem, there seems to be no major effort or movement, law, security measure, protest etc. to counter it. Women have accepted it as a part of their lives. They have decided that the best thing is to ignore it to avoid a ‘tamasha’ (confrontation), which will bring them in the limelight and might damage their reputation.

Young girls often gather to share their tales of humiliation, of lewd and sexually suggestive comments and singing, amongst themselves. It has been happening since the time they were eight or ten years old, that is, as soon as people realised that they were ‘girls’. It is a very normal occurrence when you go out for shopping, to the beach or to any other public place and even in educational institutes. You have to dress according to the area or place you are visiting. However, dressing up in a conservative fashion does not seem to help all that much. It is a blatant fact that can be validated by simply looking around that most of the women on the streets of Karachi are modestly dressed.

Despite this, no stone is left unturned to make a woman feel that she has committed an unforgivable sin by transgressing the boundaries of her home especially if she is on her own. She has no freedom or space in the world outside. Not only do a majority of men make it a point to stare, they also make it a point to make a female realise that they are ‘checking her out’.

Offensive touching occurs when you are moving in a crowded store, down a busy street or are a spectator at one of those late night concerts. During a rally in 2006, which was taken out in favour of Women’s Protection Bill (how ironic!), a man misbehaved with a female participant but this went unnoticed in the crowd. It was, however, captured on video and later passed around in mass emails, so that an interested audience could watch, be sexually titillated and joke about it.

When travelling by public transport at night, many females carry hair or body sprays or some other device for self-defence, in anticipation of misconduct by the driver or fellow commuters (in case of a bus). Segregation of the sexes is actually a better option in this scenario. If a female is driving, most male drivers that pass, make it a habit to turn and look back to see what she looks like.

Female students avoid going to cyber cafes at night especially if the street is isolated, even when they need to complete some university assignment urgently.

There is simply no security for women or even semblance of providing it. On a show on one of the local FM channels, a girl once called, finding no better alternative to voice her problem. She was twenty, orphaned, living alone and running a retail store business on her own. She complained of being constantly teased by a certain person in her neighbourhood. The show host advised her to report to the police and ask for protection, to which she helplessly replied that it was a policeman who was bothering her.

This is probably just one example from many, of women who have to fend for themselves and live on their own. Only when things get out of hand, are cases of eve teasing noticed. For instance, in an incident of eve teasing at Jinnah’s mausoleum on Pakistan’s Independence Day in 2006, a few girls raised their voices when troubled by some unruly youth and were helped by the people around. The ground turned into a battleground and the situation got so out of control that the mausoleum was closed for the next two days. However, such a scenario is rare and perhaps not too effective for combating the issue itself.

It leads to many questions. Why are these men so desperate? They are living in a modern, cosmopolitan city where there is not too much segregation of the sexes. They often study, work or even socialise with women. A great majority of men who indulge in such activities are married. Then why do they treat women as if they have just landed from another planet?

It is very hard to connect with Bollywood and Lollywood movies when they show a girl falling in love with the hero, who continuously eve teases her. Some people are of the opinion that such continuous depictions have encouraged the youth to emulate:

“A conservative society where most parents still don’t discuss sex with children is leapfrogging from orthodoxy to in-your-face sex on television, films and the internet,” wrote Hindi film actress Preity Zinta, in her much-appreciated column, ‘Odds stacked against Indian women’, for BBC’s online edition.

This is equally true for Pakistan and Bangladesh. A general conclusion is also that eve teasing has nothing to do with love, attraction or even sex. It has more to do with a patriarchal mindset, proving time and again that it is a man’s world and the sheer joy of exerting power or influence over another being from the ‘weaker sex’.

Unfortunately, a large number of people (including some females), even from amongst the educated and so-called ‘modern’ class, are of the opinion that women are the ‘eves’ who provoke, tempt or bewitch men. Asking a male classmate on what he thought of a male teacher notorious for brazenly staring at his female students, I got the response, “Look at the kind of clothes they wear!” This comes from a person who is not only ‘educated’ but also feels pride in being ‘open-minded’ as he is able to converse and joke with his female friends about sex and what not!

In his article “Hassled, but helpless”, published in The Hindu (Metro Plus Chennai, September 10, 2002), Prince Frederick observes about the phenomenon of eve teasing:

“It is time we painted this menace in the dark colours that it deserves. To start with, we could coin a new name for it. Far too often, we find the victim on the wrong side of the stick. If we were to go into the aetiology of eve teasing, as propounded by so-called analysts of the phenomenon, it would seem ludicrous, if not nauseating – “With the way she dressed she had it coming,” “She would have encouraged the boys” and “Boys will be boys, girls have to be discreet”.

It is no small and easy task to change such a mindset. Probably protests and strikes won’t do the trick. We already have too many of those happening these days for them to be really effective. Something has to be done consciously and continuously and as with everything else, it has to start at home. You have to teach your kids to respect women along with the mass media’s support for this trend, in both direct and subtle ways, to eventually kill this societal demon.