Friday, January 17, 2014

Malala Yousafzai's Version of "Ka da zalmo na pura na shwa...": On Sexism in Pashto Poetry and Peghor

I was talking to a Pashtun friend yesterday about sexist and gendered verses/lines in Pashto poetry, even if well-intentioned. Examples include Ghani Khan's "waak ye che da bal wee da dey nar na zanana kha da." [Rough tanslation: "Even a woman is better than a man who allows himself to be subjugated!" I've discussed this in details here.] Really offensive and like what the hell, even though I'm a crazy fan of Ghani's and his philosophies. Then there's this Pashto song that goes like "Pukhtano pasai inqilab rawaly, da garmo veno sor selab rawaly, Ka dase na v mekhaki wachawai da jinako ghunde bangri wachawai." [Rough translation:  O' Pashtuns [but talking specifically to men alone, clearly], wake up and start a revolution; if you can't do that, then go home and put on some bangles and jewelry like girls."] :|  I KNOW, RIGHT!!!

So this friend of mine understood my concern and critique and gave me some good news.

When Malala Yousafzai and her father were in DC for her UN speech, Malala's father told my friend that when she came out of surgery in the hospital in Britain, he said to her, "Ka da zalmo na pura na shwa, grana watana jinakai ba de gateena." [It's a popular Pashto verse the rough translation of which goes: "If the boys fail you, dear homeland, the girls will fight for you!"] And Malala said to him, "No, I don't like that. I have my own: ka da zalmo na shi ka na shi, grana watanan jinakai ba de gateena." [Rough translation: "Whether the boys do it or not, dear homeland, the girls will take fight for you"] She was like why does it have to be men's responsibility to do it and women be only the back-up?

It's a type of Pukhto poetry called tapa, which has a certain rhythm to it and a certain meter style. Like 9 syllables in the first line and 13 in the second, and the verse must end with an "ah" sound. So when her father was reciting her version to my friend, the rhythm wasn't correct. Then when he asked Malalai herself, she recited it to him correctly so he was like, "I KNOW it's Malala's own!" I mean, you know, I had to have my little doubts that someone Malala's age would spot such flaws in such gendered thinking. But I was wrong!!! This girl is a genius! Far more so than I'd previously believed!

But can you imagine? This girl understood the message of the original verse. That however well-intentioned it may have been, it maintained its patriarchal message that fighting revolutions, fighting for the safety and security of a homeland, of a nation, is the responsibility of men alone, that only men are expected to do it. That girls and women are only back-ups, that girls and women will do it *only* and only if the boys and men fail to do so.

And she was still educated in Swat. I mean, maybe there IS hope, you know, for Pashtuns? For all those times I feel hopeless for Pashtuns, it delights my heart and mind to come to know of hopeful things and ideas and people like this. Go, Malalai, Go!

That said, the original version of this verse is actually peghor to men. Feel free to read allll about peghor here where I argue that it's the main obstacle to Pashtun/South Asian women's leadership. The term peghor is ta'na in Persian and Urdu, and is prolly best translated to "taunting" in English. But it's a specific type of taunting: it's to taunt someone (usually men) to ridicule them with the intention of reminding them of their failure to maintain their honor. Usually because of women's "misconduct" in public. I know, peghor is a sucky thing to have as a part of your values. 

So, peghor. We see it commonly in Pashto poetry. Men won't fight, men won't stand up, men won't be "men enough" (I hate this phrase) until and unless someone challenges them that "hey, if you don't do 'your job,' the women will take over!" And then men will be "men enough" and finally stand up. It's just like what Malalai of Maiwand, an Afghan heroine during the British-Afghan wars, did - peghoring to Afghan men! "Ka pa Maiwand ke shaheed na shway / khudaygo laliya, benangai ta di saateena!" [Rough translation: "Young love! If you do not fall in the battle of Maiwand, By God, someone is saving you as a symbol of shame!"] It's a different kind of peghor but it's peghor nonetheless. Peghor's basically what our men need to do what they're expected to do. They do what they do not because they believe the thing/act is their responsibility but they believe their responsibility is avoiding shame and peghor. Nothing else.

Speaking of peghor, I could go on for hours and hours. Damn peghor, especially when it's used to control women.

Kay, more some other time, y'all.


  1. I am sharing a short story which I have written on the same theme. Hope you get my point through reading between the lines. Gender equality as I told already means something else for me. Gender equality does not equip either of the gender with the right of superiority. it is just role of either of the gender that plays a big role. Peghor is a social construction just like Gender which by itself is a construction and it has been losing its meaning and essence over the time.

  2. The Desire
    I look at a giant in me, big enough for my eyes to capture in one go; he listens to hear what I can’t comprehend, I aspire to talk to him but he is busy talking to himself, looking at something I can’t see; I look at his proud broad shoulders which are almost double the width of mine when he turns around and strolls away from me. I scuttle after him like a resolute bitch, but he departs in a straight line climbing up a mountain bigger than I could ever imagine. I stayed back at the foot of the hill gaping at him climbing higher and higher. He sits down on a seat on the hill-top, raises his arm, stretches his hand, folds back fingers except for the index and the middle fingers which he injects into the smooth skin of clouds hovering over the top of hill; he turns his fingers clockwise and then anti clockwise till a slit appears. Only then does he look down on me from above. Lowering my gaze, I look down on the earth, biting on my lower lip and cocking my head to one side while staring at him. Had I wings I would traverse that very hole he opened with his fingers and float above him in the skies. He listens to my thoughts or reads them on my face with his eagle eyes, shining like stars, imagining what I imagining. Then he roars the clouds and he springs up just like the splash of light flashing through the clouds, he rushes back to the foothill near me, towering over me, so close besides me. He stands erect with both his pillar-legs stretched akimbo. “Notwithstanding the fact that you have been lurking right inside me all my life you are a stranger to me. “Who are you?” I whisper.
    I am a painter, he whispers back to me. His words creep up over my neck and one by one slowly enter into my ear. “The very exteriority of you baffles me right now”, I murmur faintly to him. “All is interiority, no exteriority; nothing can escape the thought of you, even me; I lurk but at the distant edge of you”, he intones.

  3. “But who are you?” I repeat. “Open your mouth”, he asks me. “Ahhhh”, I say. “Where is your tongue?” He looks for it in my mouth. “Stick it out”. Wagging my tongue, I stick out. “I am your words”, he exclaims. “Close your eyes”, he rather orders. I do as he says. “Now open your eyes”. I obey him and open my eyes.
    “I am your colours”, he states staring into my eyes as he speaks to me. Then he sings gently to me and pulls me closer to himself, so close that I can smell the sweet fragrance of his breadth and moustache.
    I am the painter. He offers his magic pen to me and I hold it in my hand, playing with it in my fingers, feeling the hard stem and the smooth skin of it, imagining the wonders it will be able to do. “You draw the sketch and I will color its features”, he says as he holds me in his arms, with his magic pen in my hands, still playing, anticipating my new creation. He helps me find a velvety sheet slightly different from the great skin of my skin. “Spread all your surfaces to find the exact velvety skin of yours to draw the picture on”, he whispers as he pulls my tongue out between my lips. “Stretch your limbs; open your body”. With his nails he stretches a universe in me from the east to the west, from the south to the north, ruffling my tresses. He peels the skin off the top of top of my scalp, burying his nails deep into my neck, my shoulders, and my back. Then down below, like a pair scissors, opening the legs of my trousers, he exposes the inner surface of my thighs and then the hard skin under my heel. Turning me in his arms, he now faces my face; he splits my chin with his sharp teeth and my hardened nipples with his nails. Hovering on top of me he offers his eyes to lock with mine and his pen to let me draw the picture on my canvas.
    I know you are inside me, I moan but, still I don’t know your name. I only know that you are a painter. I wonder how one person can be divided into two different orientations. Why do I see you whenever I look at myself? If you and I are one then why do I see you lurking in me? While asking him all these questions and drawing a sketch, he quietly listens for words I can’t hear.
    Exactly at the moment I complete the drawing, he spills his oily colors all over my canvas.
    “Let your pierced body be open till the colors fill every pore on your drawing”, he murmurs and only then does he whisper his name in my left ear. “My name is the Desire”.
    I look at him and then at the picture on the canvas.
    “What do you see?” He smilingly asks.
    Then we both gaze in amazement at my canvas.
    “This is exactly your own creation but seen through my eyes”. “Let’s choose a name for our work”, he suggests.
    “The Desire”, I utter at once.
    “Your desire seen through my eyes”, he laughs.


Dare to opine :)

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