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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Maniza Naqvi

EXCERPTS: Oh for peace and faith!

By Maniza Naqvi

Maniza Naqvi captures the dilemma of the protagonist of her story, a mediawoman, who finds herself in a land where war has destroyed the spirit of the people and robbed them of love.

But she knows that she is unwanted here. She has had word of that. And she knows how guests are honoured here, and these are just platitudes for honouring guests. She manages to smile back. She is tired, she has been walking since daybreak, it has taken them twelve hours through mountain passes to reach this valley. Their valley. His valley. Here she will get the story she has come for. Always in search of a good story. Always willing to go where no one else would.

They had said they would just drop her and come to pick her up a week later. No problem she had said. She was only worried about one thing. Who was going to do the translation? They had made all the arrangements. There's someone there who speaks perfect English. At first, the office had said she wouldn't be able to pull it off, the fighters would never allow her to enter, then this was confirmed when the fighters had said that she was unacceptable when the office had communicated the gender of the journalist coming to write.

And then the fighters had relented, because she was a good writer. They had heard about her. And the story mattered more than the hand that wrote it. They needed to be heard. They needed to be born. She looks around her, humming under her breath. As far as they were concerned a midwife has come. It's a fair deal, they want to be heard, she wants to write. So what if they don't like her. She's not crazy about them either! She loves it! This feeling unwanted is her best schtick.

That's when she really hums. She looks around her, happily. Humming under her breath. All men, all in battle gear, all fighters. They fit the bill with their long hair and beards. They are dressed in military fatigues. Rebels. Their heads are covered with fidayeen scarves or berets with symbols on them, there is the Kalma embroidered on to their lapels, and they carry Kalashnikovs, they are strapped with spare magazines and grenades. And she is among them. Wait till she tells Jack!

A sheep turns slowly on a spitfire. She hates meat, but loves the smell of it roasting. But for now she is under an autumn night sky and the stars seem a stepladder's distance away. And there is music. The men start to stand, she watches them transform, they become creatures of rhythm, swaying to the seduction of the poetry. They dance. Arms outstretched, heads held high and proud, chins up, shoulders thrown back and hips swaying, pelvis thrust forward.

Slowly moving, bringing their arms inward over their heads to clap their hands, their feet stamp, keeping time to the rhythm of the music of the drums and tambourines. Stamp, stamp, clap, clap. Lunging forward towards each other, knees bending, torsos twirling and whirling. A man sings. He is singing, 'Rahe man rahe tu.'

The translator leans towards her. 'Our paths are the same, whatever is my path is your path.' The soldier turns to her, points to himself then points to her. 'Rahe tu, rahe man. This is Hafiz. Do you know him? He is the greatest of poets,' the translator translates.

* * * * *

And the shouting begins.

So you are worried about our society.

'Of course I am.'


'Because we have lost peace and civility.'

And what would you say was peace and civility?

'A face, un-defaced.'


'Aman and Iman, would be indicators. Indicators of it would be when people are able to walk about outside on the streets late into the evening. Lovers walk hand in hand at night on main avenues and linger on in parks and children kick footballs in alleyways way past dark. Or when, a man lies down on the floor next to a woman and makes love to her. Aman and Iman.'

Listen, we brought you in because you agreed to do the job. We said we needed a pretty face to cover ours. Do you hear me? Pay attention! Wake up! We chose your face. You didn't really think you could do anything did you? The constitution is not for you to change. It is ours to abrogate.

'The people will protest!'

Madam, the streets of this blessed country are quiet! No need for us to even impose a curfew, no need for army patrols. There are no protests. The nation sleeps. The nation rests in peace because a soldier stands guard. Do you understand? Now tell me will you cooperate? Will you be a good little girl and go on television to announce that you will behave?

There is so much pain. Only darkness now, pain overwhelms sound.

'Lie down next to me now. Here on this stone floor. Transport me, whole to that place of peace to that space, to that being of completeness of wholeness.'

'It is evening,' he says, 'wait for me tomorrow.' She understands but she pretends not to, the look on his face is too urgent, his voice too full, her knees too weak, it is too much, and where would there be to go from there if she says she has understood? But he looks at her, indignantly, and says, 'What do you mean you don't understand? You understand everything.' And she had understood everything. And it was true, everything in his tone, in that moment, every gesture of his, had conveyed the meaning of the words that she didn't catch. The words would have been superfluous anyway. The image faded.

She sobbed, 'Wait, please wait come back! Take me with you! I will never see you again! I don't even know if you are alive, or if you are dead and if you are, if you have a grave?'

'I have a house in the mountains,' he had said.


'Where I want to take you.'


'You should rest. Should you need to ever rest, and get away, to just rest from the world and be by yourself, then you will come there.'

'You think I will need to?' she had asked.

'There will always be a room for you.'

'I don't take up much space,' she had joked.

'Then for you I will have a small room!'

They had laughed.

'And I will lock you in,' he had smiled resolutely.


'I will keep the key.'


'So that you'll stay with me.'

'I am with you,' she had said.


And she didn't know why prompted from some other place she had said, 'I don't take up too much space.' She had said this to him, who needed no persuasion.

'Then for you, I will have a very small room, and I will lock you in and keep the key, you will stay there and I will never let you go.'

'Never let me go.'

Throw her back in there, let's see how long she lasts. Throw her back in there and throw away the key!

'You will get tired of me.'


'You will.'

'You don't understand me.'

'You will forget, that you ever said this.'

He had looked at her with confusion. He could not understand why she was saying this. 'You will have a window from where you will see the mountains, and the snow on them, and meadows covered with flowers.'

'Flowers like the ones you bring me every day?'

'More beautiful!'


'Who gives you flowers there?'

'Friends, and I buy them for myself,' she says.

'You will never need to buy flowers, you will never have to rip them from the ground, the whole world will be your vase full of flowers when you look out of your window. Will you come with me?' he asks again.

'I cannot, we are so far apart,' she replies.

'What do you mean?'

'Our circumstances,' she says.

'What do you mean?'

'Don't you know who I am?'

'I do.'


'Then what? We are the same.'


'We have nowhere to go.'

'I have a place to go to!' she protests.

'Is that where you want to be?'

'I want to be everywhere.'

'Exactly. Going everywhere, always struggling, always alone, always controlled by someone else's commands. We are the same,' he says.

Who was she? What did she mean, do you know who I am? Who was she? When did she say this to him?

'We should be married,' he says.


'We should have children,' he repeats.


'Don't you want children?' he asks.

'I did want children. But for that, perhaps, it is too late now.'

'No, no, never say that,' he protests.

'Why? It's true.'

'Only God knows,' he says.


'Only God will decide.'

God decided. God decided.

'Why stay when men leave anyway?' she asks.

'For the children,' he replies, simply.

Had you been the child you wanted me to have, I could have swooped you up into my arms.

'Men leave, look around you, just look here, most of the women are without their husbands, raising children on their own! These no good men. No thank you, I am fine the way I am. These no good men!'

He seemed as though she had hit him. And he had looked at her, his face had become solemn and he was silent. Then in a soft voice he had said, 'No one wants to leave their family, don't be so hard on our men. Many of our men were killed in the war. Far too many. Beautiful, brave young men.' His voice was gentle, as though he was explaining to a child. 'My brother was shot during the war and has left behind his widow and five children. That's when I returned from Moscow. I bought a gun there and I came back to fight. So don't say men leave, they don't always want to. Really, they don't always want to.'

In the darkness, she asked, 'I did apologize, didn't I? I was ashamed of myself I want to tell you that. I would not hurt you, ever. But where would I be if I had said I understood?'

Maniza Naqvi was born and brought up in Lahore and now lives in the US where she works for the World Bank. This is her third novel.

This is a disturbing and intriguing story of torture and survival. The main character is a journalist who is initially invited by the establishment and then later tortured when she doesn't conform to her hosts' expectations. She finds the strength to face the ugliness and brutality of torture by recalling her past experiences. As she moves in and out of consciousness, her past life is reconstructed. The reader learns of her existence as a woman; her ideas, thoughts and feelings are captured as is the fleeting and complex nature of existence.


Excerpted with permission from: Stay With Me

By Maniza Naqvi

Sama Editorial & Publishing Services, 4th Floor, Imperial Court, Dr Ziauddin Ahmed Road, P.O. Box 12447, Karachi-75530.


Available with Liberty Books (Pvt) Ltd, 3 Rafiq Plaza, M.R. Kayani Road, Saddar, Karachi.

Tel: 021-5683026



ISBN 969-8784-00-4

176pp. Rs375


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