The smell of nihari stew and spices has engulfed the kitchen, the dinner table is set and the piping hot, fresh naan has just been brought in from the local tandoor. Belonging to the Punjabi Saudagaran-e-Delhi clan, commonly known as “Delhi Walas”, this particular recipe of nihari has been handed down from generations in my family. Tonight, I indulge myself in the kitchen to prepare this for my celebrated guests.
Beef (shank) with bone marrow is cooked overnight on a low flame and the cooking pot is sealed with dough. The freshly ground cumin, fennel seeds and dried ginger are hand crushed on a sil batta (grinding stone); the secret ingredients that are last to be added in the pot. Nihari is best eaten at breakfast, even its name Nahar (morning) denotes that. It’s a traditional breakfast of old Delhi. But tonight, this is being served as dinner, garnished with diced ginger, green chilies, coriander leaves and topped with a distinct flavor of onion beghar.
To relish this dish over some equally delightful conversations, I have invited the three most courageous and fierce women to have ever lived; all three pertaining to different areas of expertise but who have a unique similarity amongst themselves. A bullet, that was mercilessly shot and pierced through them, drowning them in blood so violently that one shivers while writing. All three were brutally murdered on the streets of this very country that they advocated and worked for.
All three are fondly remembered and must never be forgotten simply for who they were, how they lived their lives and fought and worked hard for what they believed in, that even the bullet that ruthlessly managed to take their lives failed to silence their voices.
Sabeen Mahmud, Parveen Rehman and Benazir Bhutto are coming over tonight as my dinner guests and one can imagine the intellectually stimulating conversations that are about to take place now that we have arrived in Naya Pakistan.
Parween Rehman is no stranger to Karachi, working for the Orangi Pilot Project and for the welfare of the poor and marginalized, Parween had dedicated her life to development work. She fought the land mafia, an area of work not for faint-hearted, from which even well-connected men shy away from. Helping specially those who’s land had been grabbed. Receiving countless death threats, she simply went about her routine and embraced death while doing so.
Sabeen Mahmud, is the pioneer of T2F. A place that is a thriving hub for talent and arts. The second floor is a second home for those in Karachi, who have been longing for a space that is safe for them to work in and discuss and engage in numerous activities pertaining to arts and culture. It’s a space for an open dialogue. Yet, Sabeen’s cause of death became her ardent support for dialogue that gets muted each time it’s voiced.
Benazir Bhutto, no introduction is required here, her name is synonymous with politics in Pakistan. The first female prime minister of the Muslim world. Her struggles in a conservative, predominantly male society opened gateways for other women to enter politics and take the seat at the head of the table. She was a power woman who was passionately hated by her critiques and fervently loved by her jialas. Yet, with so much to her disposal, as viewed from the outside, she too couldn’t escape the bullet.
But tonight, we won’t talk just talk about work, but we'll get to know the person behind the persona, who many like me looked up to. What personal, professional, emotional, physical, societal, religious and cultural challenges shaped them into who they became as women.
How do they see perceive the Naya Pakistan? Their views on Twitter jihadi’s, Facebook Trolls, the #metoo movement and what not. The conversation can be never ending.
But what I’d really like to discuss with them is, did they see themselves as brave and courageous, or simply go about their day doing their work? Did they realize the steep threats that were looming in like a dark shadow to lynch them? Did they think of their deaths, that many glorify as heroic? Is death the ultimate sacrifice that one needs to pay as a price for their fight or cause?
As diner comes to an end, and green tea coupled with gur (palm jiggery) starts pouring into cups, I sip my own tea at work writing this piece, wishing to host this dinner in reality.
Oh! Such is life! Should we just sigh and end the conversation at that or is the environment that we breath in doctored around us in such a manner that it made these women so vulnerable to death.
Well, there seems to be no simple answer to this perplexed question, but one at least chose to admire them and keep their cause and memories alive so many others can follow suit and be inspired and work for real change. More power to such women, who couldn’t be silenced by death, and may they live long not just in history books but in the work and change we see today, and may we as country continue to celebrate them.
Maria Shamsi is Creative Director, Synergy