Guest Post by Aisha Sarwari
“This is why I am not in favor of working women.” Said the Colonel and security in-charge of one of Lahore’s largest office blocks. “Excuse me?” I said.
Before I could unleash my monologue on the tirade of women’s mobility, I am interrupted by the drama unfolding in the Colonel’s office where two security guards, a police man, a fellow plaza worker and the culprit who “teased” me shift uncomfortably in their chairs.
A few moments ago, I was walking up the stairs from the parking lot, late for a board meeting, shoving my car keys in my ancient purse, while two men who appeared to have camaraderie with each other were coming down. As they passed me, the uglier guy with glasses greeted me with strange familiarity and boldness.
I was used to the whistling, the smirks, the humming of latest Bollywood songs or even a religious proclamation of how great God is. But this sort of thing, however, had me stop and take notice. I asked for a clarification from him, and he went on to make generally trivial chit-chat about his friend giving me a call later.
Understanding full well that chauvinists thrive on women’s passivity, I learned to give in to my indignity and forgo the fight of telling random men off. Sometimes even when I want to fight back, their timing is too perfect and their precision that of a seasoned actor on Broadaway. Before I can feel the stab of inferiority and their power to communicate a stark message, they are gone, under the folds of a society that is so sickly South Asian. Everyday it is a battle, but I trivialize the over-sexualization of a partially segregated society whose religion rests on a mother/whore dichotomy. It’s nothing, I say, not worth it. But the truth is its very bloody and it wounds me each time and it leaves its mark every time it happens.
So this time, I fought back. I called for two guards who were directing traffic in the underground basement. New at their job, they refused to budge because they didn’t have “orders” to move from the spot that both of them were designated on to stand. I couldn’t believe it. This was no time for bureaucracy. Exasperated, but still somewhat in control, I let the guys flea, but I went to give the wannabe pedestal guards a piece of my mind. I could hear myself becoming a whiny powerless nagging woman. I hated it, but what could I do? I had to ask them why the hell they didn’t come when I called them, a total idiot just got away.
By then enough men, old men, young men, men with family values, men who believe women need protection and those who just wanted to watch a show from the other side had gathered to catch the “honor-less” folk. They asked me to identify the person. I found myself increasingly being part of a large Victorian drama — Damsels in Distress. I hated this too.
So due to cleaver James Bond action the men caught one of the guys who tried to get away. There was some motorbike skidding involved. Eventually the guy removes his helmet. I ask him if he was the person whose friend was attempting to be entertaining. He said yes and I proceeded to ask him why he was laughing about it and didn’t tell his friend to take a break. At which he became a local Punjabi Sultan Rahi and stopped short of beating his baboon chest, mouth foaming action and all. He asked me who the hell I was to tell him anything, that I should shut up and know my place. I went ahead and told him to talk in English after he learned the language, and also that I was now going to make him regret what he just did.
Thanks to his daring proximity the thought of slapping him did come to mind, but why should I lie, I was scared of him. Taken by the nerve to be so aggressive toward me in front of a crowd of armed guards, I didn’t want to test which of the genders has a knack for violence, it was a well discovered territory for all women.
I took a deep breath and called for Mr. Pathan, the chief security guard who in the true sense of the word was a guard. He arrived on the scene with his 3 inch by 6 inch mustache folded towards the edges in a circle loop. Once he arrived, he grabbed the lad with his neck asked the rest of his supervisors to take care of the bike while he walked briskly toward the Colonel’s office, asked the girl to follow. Once he discovered the girl was me (He thinks I am Syed), he broke into a fit of ass-whopping of the lad, where he asserted who exactly possessed the lion’s mane and where he was in the food chain. This was his territory and there was some order here. The kicking, shoving and slaps continued two floors up via the car slopes and into the office.
I greeted the colonel who was kind enough to keep a reserved parking space for me for the past few months, “because I was a woman” after a couple of vandalism incidents with my car. We sat down and I narrated what happened. The fellow plaza worker talked about what he saw. When I gave my version, I knew I could never explain the concept of “perceived threat” and how much that can terrify a person. It is the unsaid rule that if you dare to report, or take action it’ll be marked as a protest against the status quo and there will be retaliation, and the last word won’t be yours.
The Colonel said that it is hard for these guys to differentiate between the “type” of women they see. Some women hold men’s hand in the parking lot. What he meant to say was, this was a simple case of miscalculation. You lady, are a married woman, with kids, I know your boss, your husband and so via the men associated with you, you deserve respect and I’ll punish these men accordingly.
Already the guy, thanks to Mr. Pathan’s mighty blows was a lamb, apologizing profusely after he heard the police man suggest jail, where he’d eventually call in his friend and settle the score. I asked him to define what he was sorry for, and it was quiet clear he was sorry about landing in the crap that he found himself in, not for the harm caused to me. The fellow plaza office worker, though harsh with the guy, was ultimately asking me to forgive and let him go. Men, after all have to protect other men, it was harmless, understandably a misjudgment that should not get you in so much trouble for. You can get into trouble for theft, murder and burglary but this is just a woman.
The Colonel asked me. What do you want to do?
Men oppress women because that’s how it is. Its more natural for a woman to clean shoes apparently than it is for a man, that is in women’s nature, the cooking, cleaning and the menial tasks the surround child rearing, as well as the overwhelmingly huge ones that need emotional strength of an elephant, business intelligence of a working woman and those that require spiritual stability and nurturing forgiveness. All this time, no one asked us what we want to do.
Colonel Saab, I want him and his friend to know, that sometimes you can pick on the wrong woman, a pissed off one. Can you do that please? I asked him.
He placed his cigar on the ashtray and sighed.
Artwork by Abro.