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Angaray Poetry and illustrations

in the 21st century Written by Zehra Shah Illustrated by Moosa Khan

This work was created during a time when we were as foreign to a city that was foreign to us, which later metamorphosed into a city we have now come to realize and accept as our second home. ~1~

When. When I come Across a marriage, I sense a resistance. Penetrating deep within my restricted sense of womanhood, as a sun must feel when he can no longer affect a brown skin with layers of sunblock smeared, afraid of turning black The ugliest skin colour for someone coming from a declaration of sun gods. Ruins, and the mirror. When I recite the Quran, I don’t want to. I don’t want to speak to a god, I want to speak to a goddess. he is genderless, after all. Ah, but She is not. she is both, gender and genderless, she is invincible, not invisible. she is the goddess that is not afraid to be named a god, I mean God, as to satisfy His petty ego His existence so depends on. Fear and faith. she is All Understanding No, she has no need to be Al-Raheem, because she never was wrathful in the first place. ~2~

No she is not all knowing; she is Humble, instead; she is not “All Knowing,” because simply put, she does not care to be. she is the human god; relatable; behind the scenes. she is foreplay. she is every, other woman and man, on this sparkly earth she was named Mother of. yes, man, you too, have been crafted oh-so-precisely from her loving womb. No, she does not exclude you. I don’t know why, maybe because she has more to share, and take, while he prides away at one. When an aunty asks me why I’m not yet married, I tell her, because I haven’t any Rishtas. Her hands suddenly go from chai cup to du’aa. Before she begins her typical, I tell her, “aunty, don’t you worry, I haven’t sent a rishta purposely, I just haven’t liked anyone as much to stir sugar for yet.” ~3~

This time her hands are on the noose she tightened around my already tied vagina. When the married Bina looks at me with her happy, hollow eyes and gives me salam with a ring-less left hand, I tell her two things – she is now worth nine fingers and a soft whisper of “Tehrna bund karo aur dhoob jao.” This is where she realizes that her life is now to be lived in proxy, lived by her children, lived by her husband, family, society; lived by everyone except her. What holds her back from parting ways from this ring-less relationship? Two things, Two kids she loves dearly but knows will never love her the same, and the disgrace. What plays a heavier role? I do not know. I do, however know that marriage undid her life as smoothly as her five year old’s shoelace. Sink and drown. White Eyes and Conversations (Based on true stories, and even truer conversations)



I “Lahori lag rahee ho.” “Why do you say it like an insult?” “You’re projecting.” “In that case, thanks. I don’t mind being called a Lahori.” “Typical Lahori.” II “So, big deal if Lahore has the metro. If Altaf Hussain didn’t loot the city, we would’ve had tens of those. Wow, Lahore is safer, but tell me this – is it safer for girls? Karachi has the sea; what do you have? Food?” What do you have? Two legs? Animals have four. III “You’re from Karachi? Are you well? Do you have a cellphone? How did you survive? Do you support MQM or PPP? Do you hate Lahore? Why do you hate Lahore? It’s as dangerous as Afghanistan there, isn’t it? I know because I watch the news. Hey, do you spit paan?” No, I eat it. Is Lahore in America by any chance?


IV Dear Karachiites, Burning tires is an integral part of anger, protest and resistance. But one word of advice, if I may, could you please take the fume away from the tiring sunrays, and to the nighttime, instead? I urge that would be double effective. You can burn and create light at the same time! Illuminating the dark failures of Powerless People’s Party. And while we’re at it, how about you stray from big, running tires and keep to burning the trash you and your neighbour communally bond over; abusing President Puppet and his playmates who will all burn in their money, with your matchstick, of course. Lastly, considering the hot, summer day, I would recommend protesting with water, but we wouldn’t want a water shortage too, now would we? With regards, City Off Lights V “What a boring day in [insert “Karachi” and/or “Lahore”]! I feel like a housewife.”


VI “You have streetlight eyes.” “What’s that?” “Something like being star-struck, except by a city.” “I’m blind.” VII “The good always suffer.” Bullshit. It’s the mindset, not the circumstance. The bad suffer not because they are evil, but rather because they recognize the flipside to being human and take advantage of it. They know what they want and they get it, without patience, hard work or guilt and we hate them for it, hence becoming the “hated” ones. But, in all our hating, don’t we realize we’re evil, too?


~ 10 ~

Observed and Observer

~ 11 ~

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Literal Stream You smell of strawberries, and rats, when the rat hides and seeks, playing into your boring reeking, a picture you loathe as much as the roaches during fumigation, the birds midst deforestation; the cub when you take away his mother, and pretend to care by putting him in a cage. These bars of illusion where the caged bird sings and animals farms revolt. Although, strawberries are meant to be eaten, and rats murdered. I saw a goat today, goat’s sheep skin bleeding. He hit her. And then robbed her face right open. These people don’t deserve humanity. Beep beep, the bus moves, and my eyes. Picture after another, green and grey, green and blue, green and. Red. Shit, I think it’s my date. But I’m in the bus, and the driver is a man. Stuck in between tires, it’s the middle of the moon, the Indus river flows, and I downstream. Clifton beach is cleaner than I, and my blood is nothing more than a continuing pride of men. I feel sad when you call me impure. Cows are howling and I pray to the horned-shaped gods – prayer accepted, welcome to your bloody linger. Cum turns into pink kheer; swallow, choke, swallow, choke, it reminds you of Razi Khan’s niswaar where all ends and godliness began. BRA~ 14 ~

21 on a Corolla, Apple sticker on front; perverted, pretentious men in their beards they never trim. Sticky floss, and blackened gum; ask god of His sins. The Kama sutra, but how dare they be right all along? Going in, going out, you fall down, forget you’re feared by your own slippery tube in a drafted candyshop. Shame in a burqa, black during heat stroke, eyes still raping, and at nights wonder why you need it in the first place. Bangles on his feet, pretending he won’t make a sound. Why are you so attached to your brother, though? Oedipus cries in vain, he’s for the greek not for the land of the pure. One blood, free love, so what? Twins works well together. Back to blooming judgement, her date is the date her father eats. Impure, once again, she can’t eat the date that her father feasts. The hand that bakes the bread is not allowed to crumb. The registrar left, but the hostel fee increased doubly. Money is a cliché, and the leaves spout like the Spout sticks between my teeth as I test the patience of my teacher. I procrastinate, I’m bad, I don’t wear a scarf like my cousins, but at least I love myself. Vicious circle of hijabi love-hate, she’s got a boyfriend but humans will judge. She wears an abaya, so she has no right to her life. It was her choice, yet she hates herself for helplessly ~ 15 ~

succumbing to her sister’s wishes. She’s jealous of my friendship with him, the graves of streetcars named Desire illuminate as the cloud puffs and huffs, waiting for Adam to turn it into something of a parting milk. Drink from my breasts, they’re completely pure.

~ 16 ~

~ 17 ~

Of Haram Names and Closing Introductions I “Natasha! The perfect name for a lovely, little girl!” A half-sunken smile in response to an approval of his overly-emotional, asthmatic wife’s recommendation. Ami is my mother’s mother, which makes her my grandmother. Unfortunately, she is my maternal grandmother. My paternal grandmother died four months before life smacked me in the ear with a melodiously ugly repetition of mundane names and vaccines. My mother is deaf (and not dumb); she didn’t really care for what name I had, as long as I had one, which she would learn to speak and love, just as equally. The “bread earner,” the Al-Powerful. The man. The father and of course the father’s father should have arrived first in a series of introductions, but they just never bothered to introduce themselves. When I sat on my fist airplane, I fell in love. I stared blankly into the scale of existence, which when multiplied by the amount of generations before me, of present and to come, flew me into a ~ 18 ~

realization. I love aero planes because they tell me I’m worthless. “Are you sure gulab jamans and jalebis are enough? What about a cake from Bombay Bakery? Their famous Coffee Cake! Or the plain one? You don’t find those in Karachi, and there are plenty here!” said Ami so fast that even the cakes started to topple. The baker in rescue of his birth gave an apprehensive look. Should he just present a Bombay Bakery special, or wait for more instructions? Clearer instructions, to be clear. “Yaar, stop confusing the poor man, just get all. What does it matter? Our first grandchild is here! Debating between delicacies should be the least of our concerns.” “What are you saying!” squealed Ami. “Are you asking a question or is the summer heat getting to you?” joked Abi with innocence, “but really, anything you want, I know the details matter to you, take as much time as you please.” Ami tried to maintain her anger but couldn’t help blushing. Finally, it was decided. Orphaning the baker of his pride, cake after cake, after cake. Pastries, sub-continental sweets, rooh-afza, all containing within emotions of excitement, impatience and ~ 19 ~

hunger. One can never have enough delight to give out to a first of birthing births. II The jarring rendition of “haram” was the only cacophony that ever came out of Dada’s sweet mouth. “Don’t you- oh, I forgot you don’t have the knowledge, but DON’T YOU know Natasha was the name given to dancing, Russian girls back in the days of the War where I so bravely fought and risked my body? It would be a disgrace to my kingdom and household of Syeds for my granddaughter to be named anything nearly as disgusting as that. A Muslim girl’s name must have the perfect balance of blessed and historical meaning with enough depth to lead her fate to the right path.” Mufasa, the lion had a kingdom. He was the king in control of the circle of life. He died of a scar. Simba never cared. III That was the last of names, and Dada immediately ~ 20 ~

named me “Syeda Zehra Jabeen Shah.” It was derived from the Last Prophet (PBUH)’s daughter, Fatimah Zehra. The second name has a history behind the relationship between the PBUH and his daughter. This comprised of the prophet kissing his daughter’s forehead as a token of affection and respect, hence “Jabeen” meaning “forehead.” I have never witnessed such an event in my life of sacred names and broken promises. I do like the name that robbed a thousand cakes, but I would have had the same degree of contentment with Natasha. IV A woman may be perceived by her name, surname and ancestral history. Her meaning may well as much affect her destiny and path in life. She may take great advantage of it. She may not. At the end of the day, it is not the name that makes the girl, it is the girl that makes her name. ~ 21 ~


This work was created during a time when we were as foreign to a city that was foreign to us, which later metamorphosed into a city we have...


This work was created during a time when we were as foreign to a city that was foreign to us, which later metamorphosed into a city we have...