All posts by Sonya Rehman

A Palace Full Of Secrets

By Sonya Rehman

A little over two hours, an assorted playlist and insipid coffee (from a petrol station) later, we arrive at our destination in the heart of the historic Chiniot city in Pakistan.

Maneuvering through cramped lanes, past sputtering rickshaws, vegetable vendors and furniture shops with their beautiful pieces on full display (side note: Chiniot is quite well-known for its ethnic, intricately carved furniture), we arrive at one of Pakistan’s hidden gems – a pre-partition palace of wonders and secrets: the Umar Hayat Mahal.

Photo: Saad Sarfraz Sheikh.

From a distance, the palace looks incredibly fragile, like a piece of your grandmother’s jewellery, carelessly forgotten outdoors, left to combat the forces of nature on her own.

Photo: Saad Sarfraz Sheikh.

With its delicate wooden balcony (so brittle, as if one touch could bring it crashing down to the ground below), its salmon pink exterior walls, sturdy carved pillars, stunning arches, jaw-dropping jharokas (particularly the large one made of teak wood, protruding from the second floor), windows showcasing complex patterns and designs within their wooden frames, and vibrant stained glass doors (in hues of azure and forest green); the structure carries a feeling of abandonment, of things left unsaid and of a profound hollowness that is only magnified once one steps into the palace’s atrium – currently functioning as a languid free-for-all public library.

Photo: Saad Sarfraz Sheikh.

I am greeted by a smiling Mushtaq Ahmad, the librarian and caretaker of the palace. Having graduated with a degree in Library Sciences from a local university, Ahmad reveals that he also doubles up as the palace’s tour guide, a role that he takes very seriously.

Dressed in a neatly pressed white shalwar kameez and a prayer cap, I realize that it’s hard to gauge Ahmad’s age, given his youthful energy and how excitedly he speaks about his work and the history behind the Umar Hayat Mahal.

Mushtaq Ahmad. Photo: Saad Sarfraz Sheikh.

With a love for languages (particularly Arabic and English), Ahmad, with his kind eyes and bright orange beard, comes across as friendly and chatty.

Leading us past a few visitors (all men), engrossed in reading newspapers while lazily lounging on worn out turquoise chairs, while a rickety pedestal fan whirs in the corner, Ahmad walks us through the ground floor, unlatching quaint wooden doors with a flourish.

From a dusty lounge to an old fashioned conference room complete with a large wooden table, chairs, elaborately carved and gold-painted glass cabinets, ceilings incorporating fine woodwork and glass, a small museum (housing old and contemporary artifacts), panels of the most beautiful tiles in pink, pale blue and sea green imported from Japan, and a secret cellar that you can climb down into from one of the smaller rooms, the palace, while in a partial state of ruin, carries an air of dignity and grace about her.

Constructed in 1930 (although some say that the palace was complete in 1928) and having taken nine long years to meticulously design and build, the five-storey edifice sits on just 4 marlas of land, lodged between shops and houses.

Photo: Saad Sarfraz Sheikh.

“[Umar Hayat] was a successful businessman who made his money in Calcutta,” Ahmad reveals, mentioning that back then a number of entrepreneurs from Chiniot would travel to Calcutta on a frequent basis for trade and work.

But five years after the completion of his majestic palace, Umar Hayat passed away in 1935; leaving behind his wife, Fatima, and their only son, Gulzar, who was then 15-years-old.

Two years after the death of her husband, Fatima decided to marry Gulzar. “She wanted to create a sense of joy within the palace again, given the trauma she and her son had endured,” Ahmad tells me, his voice lowered, “There were many festivities leading up to the wedding; it was a grand affair. It is said that the whole neighborhood was invited, even those who could hear the sounds of the music from the dhols from a distance were invited to Gulzar’s big day.”

But the morning after the wedding, 17-year-old Gulzar was found dead in his bathroom – it is said that he died inhaling the gas from lit coals, however the cause of his death still remains inconclusive.

Photo: Saad Sarfraz Sheikh.

“[His mother] was devastated and had him buried right here on the ground floor,” Ahmad says, motioning to two graves cordoned off on all sides by flimsy pieces of wood. “Exactly one year after her son’s death, Fatima died of heartbreak. She too is buried here, right beside her child.”

It is a heartrending sight as one looks over the dusty marble grave stones inscribed in Urdu with the text; ‘Fatima, wife of Umar Hayat,’ and ‘Gulzar, son of Umar Hayat.’

Amidst such immense beauty – a palace made from and with so much love – now housing the graves of two lives cut tragically short; the city’s hubbub outside seems surreal, almost disrespectful.

Photo: Saad Sarfraz Sheikh.

After the deaths, rumour spread that the palace was haunted and was a harbinger of bad luck. However, in the 40s, the palace housed an Islamic school and later an orphanage, but this didn’t last very long.

Left without any government intervention, maintenance or restoration, the palace fell to further ruin after thieves removed and stole portions of the palace to sell to antique dealers across the country. The vandalism, coupled with the lack of care, resulted in the two upper levels of the palace to be torn down by the authorities.

But it was only until the early 90s that the palace came under the protection of the then District Commissioner, Muhammad Athar Tahir.

Photo: Saad Sarfraz Sheikh.

However, the restoration work didn’t do justice to the original art and design of the palace – in fact, there are many portions on the ground floor which seem slightly off; the re-painting of the frescoes and the sloppy whitewashing comes across as crude and amateur.

“The preservation hasn’t been consistent. If conserved properly, this palace has the potential of being recognized as Pakistan’s Taj Mahal,” Ahmad states, as we follow him up a battered, winding (and mildly terrifying) staircase to a magical second floor.

Pointing to the walls, Ahmad says; “Did you know the structure has been made from a paste which includes mud, lentils, white clay and the juice of molasses?”

Given the exquisite craftsmanship – from the woodwork, detailed frescoes and exceptional ceiling work (different in each room), it is interesting to note that at the time, the palace cost the late owner a grand total of 4 lakh rupees.

Photo: Saad Sarfraz Sheikh.

Designed by famed craftsmen, Elahi Baksh Pirjah and Rahim Baksh Pirjah (among other master craftsmen such as Niaz Ahmed Jhalandari, Ahmed Din, and more), Ahmad states that Elahi Baksh Pirjah, was so gifted, that he was known in the area as the “local Michelangelo.”

“Even though he has passed, his art form is still very much alive,” Ahmad says, “Go to the market, to any shop in Chiniot and you will see how his designs are still being replicated. What you see today are his creations.”

Dodging pigeon droppings and avoiding a precarious landing with a gaping hole, I spot a cat and her three kittens, running around the second floor, meowing their heads off. Ahmad laughs when I worriedly ask him if he’s going to chase them out. “Not at all, they are visitors here too.”

With a running corridor on all four sides leading to ornately designed doors and multi-coloured stained glass, the second floor is almost otherworldly, if not slightly eerie. Past a padlocked door (with bits of glass missing from the centre), I catch sight of piled up newspapers and discarded furniture, all coated in thick dust.

Photo: Saad Sarfraz Sheikh.

Interestingly, one can make out slightly faded paintings of the Taj Mahal (in Agra), Shalimar Gardens (in Lahore) and the Jantar Mantar monument (in Jaipur) on one of the main ceilings on the second floor. Looking at them evokes a strange feeling of nostalgia that I can’t put my finger on – perhaps this is what living in the subcontinent (before the ravages of partition), felt like? A sense of unity; celebrating and forever immortalizing one’s culture and identity in art…

Mushtaq Ahmad. Photo: Saad Sarfraz Sheikh.

“The Umar Hayat palace is great for domestic tourism,” Ahmad states, while walking us through Gulzar’s spacious bedroom. “Chiniot is recognized due to this palace, but the authorities don’t seem to be interested in its upkeep. It’s a pity. There has to be a love for maintaining our heritage sites. I remember when I first saw it in 1991; I thought the palace was incredible. Back then someone told me, ‘like old people, old buildings too need care,” Ahmad says with a smile.

WKND Magazine, Khaleej Times


Pakistan’s Rising Air Pollution Crisis

By Sonya Rehman

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 4 million of the world’s population succumbs to air pollution-related illnesses on an annual basis, due to toxic air quality levels that go well beyond the standard guidelines outlined by the WHO.

Sculptures by Gal Wein­stein.

As mentioned in a recent State of Global Air 2018 report, “Worldwide exposure to PM2.5 [atmospheric particulate matter which poses the greatest health risks by affecting the heart and lungs] contributed to 4.1 million deaths from heart disease and stroke, lung cancer, chronic lung disease, and respiratory infections in 2016. PM2.5 was responsible for a substantially larger number of attributable deaths than other more well-known risk factors (such as alcohol use, physical inactivity, or high sodium intake).”

In addition, the report also highlights countries such as China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh that have “increasing trends in PM2.5 exposure.” However, while China has made some improvement in tackling air pollution, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh “have experienced the steepest increases in air pollution levels since 2010 and now present the highest sustained PM2.5 concentrations.”

In Pakistan, minus any government intervention or even social awareness campaigns – informing citizens how to protect themselves from the toxic smog – the past few years have seen an extraordinary rise in air pollution, particularly during the onset of winter. According to a report by Lancet, a medical journal, approximately 22 percent of deaths in Pakistan each year are attributed to air pollution.

This led Abid Omar, a young entrepreneur based in Karachi, to initiate the Pakistan Air Quality Initiative (PAQI) which provides real time data on air quality in the country.

Having lived in Beijing, China, for a few years, Omar realized how imperative publicly available data was in instigating a much-needed call to action regarding China’s air pollution issue.

“I saw how [it] helped changed the conversation there; how the Beijing government first claimed ignorance, then started monitoring air quality and making the data accessible to the public,” he says, “And finally, [how they] then started to implement policies that are trailblazing for excellence in environmental governance.”

But on home turf, Omar discovered that there was an alarming lack of data on air pollution levels in Pakistan. “When I saw that the Government of Pakistan did not even have the equipment to measure air quality in 2016, I decided to set up my own air quality monitoring network.”

Installing imported air quality monitors in the cities of Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar and Karachi, Omar states that through his platform, he was able to engage citizens who understood the gravity of the situation: that the air in Pakistan truly does stand as an “invisible killer.”

*Read the rest of the article on The Diplomat.

The Heart Is In The Mountains

By Sonya Rehman

Misty mornings. Photo: Sonya Rehman.


Sitting in the sun, peeling vegetables (to cook for lunch). Spot me?


The mountains, the plains, the green fields and rain – how green is my earth? Photo: Sonya Rehman.


These zero-filter photos (above) that you just went through are from a trip to the mountains a few years ago. I was with a group of sensitive individuals who came together to practise the art of breathing, yoga and mindfulness far, far from the frenzied pace of empty city living.

I keep coming back to this experience over the years because it had such a profound effect on me. I have begun to realize how powerful one’s spiritual quest can be if embarked on in a group – this can be anything from a few days, years or a lifetime. But more on that later.

One of our ‘assignments’ during the course of the trip was to refrain from speaking for 3 days. I remember thinking, ‘How crazy!’ and then, ‘What’s the big deal? This should be easy,’ but it was far from simple.

There’s something about taking an oath of silence and watching the (slow) erosion of your ego without the use of the tongue – try it. Initially, you’ll find a lot of your inner ‘grime’ bubble up to the surface. This happened to me on the second night. I was sharing a room with three other girls and was in a deep slumber, when I heard someone sobbing. At that moment, in the thick of sleep, I felt a hand on my shoulder waking me up. “Sonya?! Sonya…theek ho na?” It was one of the girls, she looked terrified. “Haan sorry, theek hoon, I’m sorry I woke you up.” Pacifying her that I was indeed okay, I turned over, my mind flooded in shock (why was I weeping?) and shame (I felt exposed and vulnerable in front of a complete stranger).

That memory has stayed with me, and I still recall it from time to time. While we’re so put together in our waking life, our egos have neatly packed up our ‘grime’ in pretty little boxes, lodging it deep down in the crevices of our wobbly, broken bits, as they bob away in the sea of our unconscious. And every now and then, these living, breathing patterns, memories, manifest in the most bizarre ways.

I know far too many 30-somethings/40-somethings who haven’t gotten around to doing ‘the work’ – the sifting, channeling, making peace with, cleansing, detoxing, letting go, trashing.

And it’s doing us in. Isn’t it?

The mountains that enfold the vale
With walls of granite, steep and high,
Invite the fearless foot to scale
Their stairway toward the sky. 

The restless, deep, dividing sea
That flows and foams from shore to shore,
Calls to its sunburned chivalry,
“Push out, set sail, explore!” 

And all the bars at which we fret, 
That seem to prison and control, 
Are but the doors of daring, set
Ajar before the soul. 

Say not, “Too poor,” but freely give;
Sigh not, “Too weak,” but boldly try,
You never can begin to live
Until you dare to die.

– Henry Van Dyke

Coke Studio Explorer Unearths Pakistan’s Hidden Talent

By Sonya Rehman

Pakistan’s biggest and most popular annual music platform, Coke Studio, under the banner of its exciting new initiative – Coke Studio Explorer – cuts through the mainstream and brings previously undiscovered music talent to the public eye.

Ariana and Amrina during the recording of their song, Pareek, for Coke Studio Explorer. Photo by: Insiya Syed.

Having released a grand total of five tracks this month, each song highlights Pakistan’s cultural diversity by presenting artistes such as; two young aspiring singers from the Kalash Valley (Ariana and Amrina), a brother-sister duo from Sindh (Vishnu and Shamu Bai), an ensemble that goes by the name of Qasamir (from Azad Kashmir), a Pakistani singer discovered on Instagram (Mishal Khawaja), and a trio of singers from Balochistan (Mangal, Darehan and Shayan).

Mangal, Darehan and Shayan. Photo by: Insiya Syed.

Spearheaded by Ali Hamza and Zohaib Kazi, who also happen to be leading the platform’s much-anticipated 11th season as its producers, this year, Kazi mentions that they are hopeful Coke Studio Explorer will encourage an environment which both supports and creates similar platforms that unearth the country’s overlooked music talent.

Qasamir pose for a photo. Photo by: Insiya Syed.

“It’s a hopeful shot in the dark,” Kazi states earnestly, “It’s not about the hits or the ‘likes’ for us; we’ll know we’ve done our job right if we helped trigger an ecosystem that recognizes Pakistan’s diverse cultural fabric and gives it its due exposure.”

Ali Hamza and Zohaib Kazi during the recording of Pareek by Ariana and Amrina. Photo by: Insiya Syed.

While each song in Coke Studio Explorer stays true to the artiste and the region it has been recorded in, they are deliciously packaged with a contemporary spin by Kazi and Hamza that make each number memorable and cool.

Take for instance, the talented vocalist, Mangal, along with musicians, Darehan and Shayan, from Balochistan, with their foot-tapping song, Naseebaya, for the series. Mangal performs the age-old (and rather fascinating) vocal art of throat singing, known as Nar Sur, which was shot and recorded in Sohbatpur, Balochistan. Having upheld and preserved this art form for three decades, Mangal sings the story of a man hopelessly in love in Naseebaya.

Mangal. Photo by: Insiya Syed.

Then there’s the rather lovely Sindhi classical folk number, Faqeera, performed by 21-year-old Shamu Bai and her 14-year-old brother, Vishnu, who hail from Dewan Lal Chand, a village in rural Sindh, where the pair are well-known for performing songs and bhajans at various festivals and events over the years.

Shamu Bai. Photo by: Insiya Syed.

“Initially, [Kazi] and I spoke at length about the responsibility that this endeavor demands; to create a positive narrative which is very much needed for Pakistan today,” says Hamza, “And what better way to capture our languages, traditions and culture through music? We wanted to focus on things that we hadn’t ever explored, and to look at elements of what makes Pakistan what it is today – highlighting the Pakistani identity and truly owning the white in our flag.”

14-year-old Vishnu. Photo by: Insiya Syed.

With the conclusion of the Explorer series this week, the platform’s newest season is slated to be broadcast on national television next month, in August. And while Coke Studio’s previous seasons have dealt with its fair share of criticism and mixed reactions over certain song selections, treatment and collaborations, gauging by Coke Studio Explorer, it may just hit the right notes.


The Story of ‘Salam’ – An Overlooked Pakistani Hero

By Sonya Rehman

Having been screened at the Raw Science Film Festival (for which it bagged first prize for Best Documentary Feature), the Mumbai International Film Festival, the Charlotte Asian Film Festival and Oxford University, the phenomenal documentary, Salam, will soon make its way to film festivals in Paris and Barcelona, later this year.

Tracing the extraordinary life of Pakistan’s first Nobel Laureate, Abdus Salam, a renowned theoretical physicist who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979, the production shines the spotlight on the journey of an individual who was lauded for his remarkable contributions to the field of physics overseas, yet remained an overlooked outsider in his own homeland.

Part of Pakistan’s Ahmadiyya community, a persecuted minority, Salam’s name and his work remains tragically unknown in Pakistan today.

Abdus Salam receiving the Nobel Prize for physics from King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden on December 10, 1979. Photo: AMA Sweden.

But both Omar Vandal and Zakir Thaver, the producers of Salam, hope to inspire audiences on home turf with their ambitious, poignant production, which took 14 laborious years to complete.

“We truly think audiences will find Salam’s story extremely moving,” states Thaver, “[It] has the same potential to inspire children not just in Pakistan, but in all developing countries because Salam worked globally to bring science to developing nations. When we visited his school in Jhang [a city in the province of Punjab], it was plainly obvious that his story is inspiring children there, so why can’t this be happening in all schools in Pakistan? When we talk to science students abroad, many will say Salam’s story is serving as an inspiration in their work; but why are we unable to capitalize on this?”

The poster of the docufilm, Salam by Arghavan Khosravi.

Given Salam’s unabating devotion to Pakistan during his lifetime, amidst the intolerance, is perhaps the most tragic aspect of this great scientist’s life: the continuous rejection from a country that he loved so deeply.

Physics laureates 1979: Sheldon Glashow, Abdus Salam and Steven Weinberg. Photo: Sipa USA.

“Salam loved Pakistan. Unconditionally. We have a recording in which he says, ‘Pakistan can keep doing whatever it wants, it is after all, our country.’ To a lot of people that’s unfathomable. How a man could be so devoted to his country despite his maltreatment by it,” states Thaver.

“There’s this account that appears in the film of how a tailor in London stitched a suit for [Salam] in a matter of a week as he needed one to quickly wear at this inauguration at Imperial College,” Vandal reveals, “Salam had found a tailor for life. He felt the same way about Pakistan. It was his country. His love for Pakistan was his to give, never for Pakistan to take away. The story is one of unrequited love – of a fraught relationship between the most illustrious son of the soil and his motherland. There’s this prevalent conflation that if you’re Ahmadi you’re also anti-state. Salam’s story challenges this erroneous notion.”


For The Love Of Classic Cars: Father-Son Duo Restore A Piece Of History

By Sonya Rehman

A well-known classic car enthusiast from Karachi, Mohsin Ikram, first came across two decaying vintage cars parked outside the city’s picturesque Mohatta Palace in 1992. The cars, once owned by Fatima Jinnah, the sister of the country’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, were gleaming beauties during their glory days, but when discovered by Ikram, they were a rusted and rotten mess minus their accessories and spare parts, all of which had been stolen over the years.

But after fighting to renovate the 1955 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible and the 1965 Mercedes Benz 200, by approaching countless government officials, bureaucrats and judges over the course of 25 years, the Government of Sindh finally commissioned Ikram and his son, Ahsan, to spearhead the project of restoring the pieces of history from scratch.

“Quitting was never an option, I had been after these vehicles for years,” Ikram, the founder of an automobile fraternity, the Vintage and Classic Car Club of Pakistan (VCCCP) states. “Since 1992 so many governments have changed that I can’t even recall all the people I had to approach for this project.”

Mohsin Ikram. Photo courtesy of: Ahsan Ikram.

But a daunting task lay ahead of the motorheads. After bringing the cars to their workshop, Ikram Motor Works, one of the leading vintage car facilities in the country, the duo, along with their team first got to work by stripping down the vehicles’ bodies. “There were a lot of parts that were missing or had been stolen, so we had to import them from the US and Germany,” says Ikram, who mentions that the first few months of the project were solely spent on “denting the vehicles and getting the patchwork done.”

Before the restoration process: a mangled mess of metal, rust and decay. Photo courtesy of: Ahsan Ikram.

“Once that was completed, we treated the vehicle for rust using the best apoxy primers. When all the rust had been removed, the next step was paintwork using top of the line materials. Simultaneously, mechanical, electrical and upholstery work was being done on the cars,” Ikram explains, “After the vehicles were painted, we started my favourite part of the entire restoration process: the fitting work. It’s when you have to ‘dress up’ the vehicle with new, shiny parts. As a lot of hard work had been put into refurbishing all the original parts, this bit was especially fun and yet, extremely difficult.”

For Ahsan, renewing the original parts was a bit of a tricky process. “A lot of time and effort have been put into it as we didn’t want the vehicles to rust again, and also because we wanted to use the original parts; not copies made in China.”

Ahsan Ikram.

Having restored over a hundred vehicles owned by kings and maharajas, including a 1929 Packard (owned by the Maharaja of Patiala), 1912 and 1916 Merryweather fire engines, the Quaid-e-Azam’s Rolls Royce Silver Wraith, a 1947 Lincoln Continental Cabriolet (once owned by the last King of Afghanistan), and countless others, Ahsan reveals that the most thrilling part of their recent project was test driving Fatima Jinnah’s cars in Karachi.

The gleaming 1955 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible after being fully restored by Mohsin Ikram and his son, Ahsan Ikram. Photo courtesy of: Ahsan Ikram.

Currently on display at the Quaid-e-Azam House Museum in the city, Ikram discloses that the duo will be keeping a close eye on the restored vehicles.

“We will be maintaining and driving them from time to time to make sure nothing ever happens to them again. They are our country’s heritage on wheels and it’s our job to preserve them for the younger generations to come.”

A work of art. Photo courtesy of: Ahsan Ikram.

For the future, both father and son dream about opening up Pakistan’s first, one-of-a-kind museum for vintage and classic cars, in addition to persuading the government to allow for the import of classic cars into the country.

“It’s a tragedy that one cannot import vintage and classic vehicles,” states Ahsan, “Because of the law there are only a limited number of cars in the country that are sold for exorbitant prices. It’s nearly impossible for a young Pakistani to purchase a vintage or classic car here. Our country has yet to tap into this mammoth industry.”


The Tragic Life of a Slain Social Media Star Chronicled In New Book

By Sonya Rehman

Released this month, The Sensational Life & Death of Qandeel Baloch, explores the life of one of Pakistan’s most popular social media celebrities, whose life was tragically cut short in 2016 when she was brutally murdered by her brother over ‘honor.’

Book cover illustration by Rahema Zaheer Alam.

Based in Karachi, journalist Sanam Maher says that she was keen on writing about Baloch when the social media star’s popularity was at its peak on the internet.

While many were avid followers and fans of Baloch’s Facebook page, the star was consistently condemned for the kind of content she was uploading; labeling her posts as ‘vulgar’ and ‘un-Islamic.’

“It would be a challenge for the average Pakistani to recognize the faces of any of the hundreds of men and women killed for honour every year. Their stories and our dismay at yet another killing fades with the grubby newsprint from our fingers as we read about them,” states Maher, speaking about how Baloch’s murder opened up a much-needed dialogue in Pakistan – both online and in real life – about the subject of honor killing, “But Qandeel was different. There was a sense of having known her – or a facet of her personality – as many of us engaged with her frequently online, whether that was to bait her, shame her, secretly watch her videos at night, or share her videos with friends, imitate her and make a meme of her.”

Qandeel Baloch. Photo by: Azeem Sani.

For her debut book, Maher knew she didn’t just want to shed light on Baloch’s life, but to also scrutinize and understand the workings of Pakistani society, its imperfections and duplicity included.

“For instance, when looking at Qandeel’s fame as a viral star, I began to think about how my generation of Pakistanis has been connected to the world like never before – what are we doing online? What does it mean to go viral in Pakistan? How are we building communities online in order to speak in ways that we may not be able to ‘offline?’ What happens when we behave in a way online that seems to break the rules of how we are supposed to behave, particularly as women, ‘in the real world?’”

Since her passing, the author mentions that it is crucial to remember Baloch as a woman who had her own fair share of quirks, endearing qualities, dreams and ambitions. “It is easy to put Baloch on a pedestal now and use her as a hashtag, but it is important to never forget the living, breathing heart of any story about her: a woman who was funny, catty, charming, a wonderful friend who never forgot a birthday or a Valentine’s Day, a woman who told little fibs about herself, someone who was loyal, someone who was a naughty child who did very well at school and loved to play with the boys even when her mother scolded her for doing so, a woman who had played dress-up in her brother’s clothes as a little girl and who desperately wanted to learn martial arts.”

The author, Sanam Maher. Photo by: Sherezade Maher.

And for those hoping to read her debut book, the author states that she’d like her readers to first ask themselves what prompted them to buy a book on a slain social media celebrity.

“When I’m asked, even now, for a definite, incontrovertible answer to, ‘But who really killed her?’ I wonder what the person asking that question is hoping to get from my answer. I’ve tried to remember always that when the details of Baloch’s ‘real life’ came forward, it was by force – she never wanted to reveal her real name, or the fact that she had a son and an ex-husband – and something that was deeply distressing for her. I hope that by the end of the book, my [readers] leave knowing a bit more about themselves and the place we’re living in, rather than every juicy, dirty detail of a woman’s life.”