Freedom is a State of Mind

By Sonya Rehman

Two close friends of mine (a man and a woman) recently registered (separate) blogs and have begun writing anonymous blog posts about sex, homosexuality, weight loss, love, divorce, etc, in Pakistan.

To be honest, I’ve been having an absolute ball reading their blogs. I don’t get to see them very often, but when I do, conversation is free flowing, random, and of course, painfully honest. I find it so refreshing to talk to people who are honest about their lives, it’s such a great way to connect, to break through facades and to just let loose really. In Lahore growing up, I’ve always found society to be very repressed, but over the past few years it has certainly become much better. When my mother was a young woman, divorce was so taboo to talk about. Not anymore.

Anyway. Today, guess what? I went to the bank to withdraw some dosh from the ATM and I spotted this super cool gori in a saucy red biker jacket and track pants pull out her mountain bike from the car park and bike off down the road. Blondie made my heart skip a beat. Dhug dhug. And I thought, damn girl, why can’t you do that? I looked at blondie with complete envy. She looked ballsy and confident. It made me realize something: in Pakistan, we – all of us – have grown up in a Culture of Exploitation. A Culture of Subliminal (and direct) Verbal Nastiness. And that in itself has made us live half-lives, have major confidence issues, question ourselves, question our worth – because we don’t see ourselves from our own eyes, but the judgmental eyes of society.

Remaining comfortably within a cocoon of fat, self-preservation, and a complete lack of freedom. The Freedom to Choose. We simply cannot make our lives any different. Change? Oh my God, you’ve got to be kidding. Thanks, but no thanks. I’m happy in my rut, sir. I’m happy in my fat suit.

I’ve felt it all my life. The verbal nastiness. Everyone I know and have interacted with has put up with it too, lived through it, and replicated it in their dialogue and interaction with others. So have I. When I came back from the US, I was a complete tub of lard. I’d put on 15 kilos thanks to a generous student budget (thanks, Fulbright) that allowed me to morph into Sloth Queen and stuff on junk while racing around New York covering stories and attending classes. I was a fat sack of shit. I’m still chubby, but not as bad as I used to be (see, I’m putting myself down again, see what I mean, this is built into our psyche! All us Pakis are installed with little self-deprecating humour chips! Fuck).

Anyway. So ya. When I got back from the US in my Havaianas flip-flops feeling like king-pin, the first thing I got was:

“Wow, Sonya? Is that you? Wow. For a minute I didn’t recognize you!” (cue light giggles from Chootia Party)

Um, okay.

And what did I say? “Haan yaar, I’m SO sorry I became so fat. Terrible na? I’m horridly sorry you couldn’t recognize me parading around the super market like Fat Bastard.” Okay that’s not exactly what I said, but my response was certainly, heavily peppered with an apology, or apologies if you may. So I got FAT, dude. Bite me. Actually, don’t. But you see. That’s what it’s like in Pakistan. You’re put down for your appearance and instead of fighting back with a cute/sharp comeback, you freaking apologize. And then there’s the flip-side to it. The day you fly out of your house looking like Cindy Crawford, damn, watch them shit their pants and kiss your feet. It’s all very unsettling. I’ve never been fat all my life – my weight always fluctuated, depending on when I was in love (hehe – gag). Therefore I know what it’s like to be Prom Queen one day and Fatty Bombatta the next.

il_430xN_20479689-767404Anyway, my point is this: why have we put up with this abuse for so long? What gives anyone the right to comment on your weight, your looks, your marital status, your LIFE for pete’s sake?

And then there’s the judgment that comes if you’re in your 30s and still single. But that’s a topic for another day. However, my heart especially, especially bleeds (really, BLEEDS) for close friends who have been subjected to the Rishta Years where rishta upon rishta, they have been sized up and assessed by retarded, judgmental families and their equally retarded sons during Disco Trolley Sessions. By the way, I’m not generalizing. There are some wonderful Pakistani families out there (who go the arranged marriage route), who are champion folks, who don’t subject poor girls to scorn and rapid fire questions, while assessing their skin tone, weight, features, clothes, etc.

Recently, a dear friend of mine lost a good 60 kilos. Her weight gain over the past few years had been frightening – PRIMARILY from a health perspective. But I nearly cried when I saw her recently. She was radiant, beautiful, her energy was different – she was ALIVE. She was HAPPY. She was finally who she had always been inside that heavy cloak of armour that she’d lug around all her life. She made a choice. She did it because she wanted to do it.

And I asked her, did she get upset with those who used to treat her like shit in the past – and who now, treated her with respect and acceptance? Yes, she’d responded, she was dealing with rage issues on that front. I understood how she felt.

Freedom really and truly is a state of mind. While Pakistani society can be restrictive, repressive, downright cruel and judgmental, you really need to do whatever it takes to wrench free from society’s expectations of you and do what you need to do. For instance, don’t lose weight to score brownie points with the Chootia Party — do it for yourself. Similarly, don’t get hitched to someone you aren’t compatible with just to gain society’s stamp of approval – marry someone who stirs something within you…

Me? I’m going to buy a mountain bike. But first, I’m going to learn how to ride one.

Paperazzi, Pakistan Today


One thought on “Freedom is a State of Mind”

  1. Screw all those who comment on other people’s weight issues! Ive had my share, with some of my relatives literally poking in my stomach to ask why it’s coming out! I’d think “f*ck you” in my mind but would just blatantly ignore them! It’s only with experience does one develops that confidence to shut all those up who would dare say anything! Pakistani society is extremely judgmental and mental!

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