I sit

My scarf fallen from my head

I don’t care if a stranger sees my hair

My senses embrace me,

Let nothing disturb

This domain of pleasure

[Waves of Pleasure by Meeraji - Translated by Mahmood Jamal]

Decades ago, Mohammad Sanaullah (Meeraji) penned some provocative poems exploring sexuality and erotic themes.  He was ridiculed by his contemporaries and never achieved the acclaim he deserved.  Nevertheless, his books adorned shelves of thousands who admired his work but lacked the courage to publicly give him his due respect.  I like to believe that Meeraji coveted the admiration of his readers more than the accolades from his contemporaries.  Padash is the bolder version of Meeraji.  Being a woman from a culture where the honor of the country remains tied to women’s chastity, Padash has taken the same leap Meeraji took years ago.  Her first book Talking on Paper, Confessions of a Girl with Loose Character will ruffle some feathers and may even invite the wrath from the guardians of honor.  A few will pass contemptuous judgments but there will be plenty like me who would keep the book in their collection.  I have a feeling that she like Meeraji, would be least concerned with the labels the moral judges will assign her but would relish the thought that some admire her for having the courage to live life on her own terms. 

Talking on paper is a journey of a young child growing up in a culture where being cool is akin to being westernized.  Padash shares how incompatible influences shape the thought process of child in her quest to find her identity.  It starts from the elite schools of Islamabad, through the secret world of private parties where drugs and alcohol flow free and eventually into the web of forbidden liaisons.  Underlying in each of her short stories is the inexplicable battle for identity, reconstruction of destroyed self esteem and innate desire for self fulfillment. 

Padash hits the nerves in her comparison of true friendships with those that are forged for convenience.  She brilliantly expands upon the profound effect of loyalty and betrayal upon the young impressionable minds.  Her book is far more than salacious escapades of a rebellious girl.  It is the first hand account of how important it is to nurture the self esteem of our youth, the need to communicate with them instead of issuing orders and learning to reach out to the children without alienating them.  Furthermore, Padash’s stories are protest against the dogmas that require sacrifice of dreams and aspirations of girls in favor of marital security. In the process she also disrobes the men who hide under the shroud of nobility and no doubt will be the first to cast judgment on her yet are guilty of the same indiscretions.

Why yes! Or should it be kyun jeeTalking on Paper is a guaranteed page turner provided you can put away your moral compass.  You may not agree with Padash’s lifestyle or the choices she has made in her life.  Nevertheless, it is her choices, her life and her decisions.  If you can respect her right to live life on her terms then take a chance.  Get the book.  Read it with the open mind.  It is engrossing and Padash is truly gifted with the art of expression.  Additionally, the sexcapades of a Pakistani female will be used not to exploit but to benefit the exploited since all proceeds go towards a worthy cause.  Kyun jee (since it would be blasphemous to use Why Yes)  she is a looker, a great writer and is compassionate.  Should anything else really matter? 

I have never met the author or know if these stories are real or imagined. She has however become a virtual friend and I cherish the brief exchanges we have on the digital world.  Padash breathes on the pages of Talking on Paper and is best encapsulated by Kishwar Nazli in her poem I am not that Woman.  A couplet from that poem in her honor for having the courage to write her first book. 

I am the one you crushed

with the weight of custom and tradition

not knowing

that light cannot be hidden in darkness.

Remember me,

I am the one in whose lap

you picked flower

and planted thorns and embers

not knowing

that chains cannot smother my fragrance. 

[Translated by Mahmood Jamal]