Women On Paper

Storytelling and NarrativeGlobal Beat

There is a woman who stands at the corner of the street leading to my house every day. She appears at around dusk with a bag full of clothes and food items in her hand, a flimsy dupatta hung over her shoulders and a perpetually worried expression on her face. I saw her first from the window of my air-conditioned car on my way home from the everyday menial tasks of an average teenage girl whose attention centered on her own existence. I never paid attention to her, yet I saw her every single day without fail, standing at the corner of the street with a bag in her hand, until she became a kind of human landmark on my journey home.

I never knew her story until one day I asked my driver what she was doing standing there everyday. He viewed me through the rear view mirror with surprise at my sudden interest. “Her son died a couple of months ago in unexpected circumstances; she is entirely alone,” he answered in Urdu. “His death took a huge toll on her, so everyday she comes to this location and searches for him. She is constantly waiting for him to pick her up and take her home.”

Hearing this shook me to my core. I was not only heartbroken at this poor woman’s tragic circumstances but also horrified at my own indifference. I had been blind to the grief and sorrow of someone whom I saw everyday and I had made minimal effort to find out her story.

This incident made me start thinking. I soon realized I had never written about anyone other than myself. My narrative was so focused on myself that my stories barely reached beyond the four walls I grew up in. My storytelling was tainted with the voice of privilege.

As a young child, I often played at my dad’s law firm, prancing about his office, scribbling with his fancy pens, and generally causing a ruckus. It was this exposure that led me to internalize so many different realities. People came to my dad for help, asking about legal advice on matters that concerned them, some of which opened my eyes to how vast and complicated the stories of people’s lives could be. I heard about women who had been cheated of their property rights, who had been abused and harassed in the workplace, people who had seen justice snatched from the palms of their hands.

At the age of 14, I interned at my aunt’s non-profit organization, which campaigns for the rights of women. I was amazed at the stories of strong, powerful women who had escaped the negative forces of oppression and domestic abuse, who had set up their own businesses. One inspiring woman worked tirelessly to purchase a single stove and now owned an entire restaurant. Another set out against all odds and became the first female rickshaw driver in the city.

It was then that I realized that I should be writing about these narratives, the raw and beautiful progression of women in my more-than-often patriarchal society. These are the stories I strive to pursue, choosing to write about the woman standing on the corner of my street in the sweltering summer heat rather than the girl sitting behind the glass in her air-conditioned car.

Miraal Zafar is an 11th grade student at Lahore Grammar School. Her hobbies include reading, and she is an avid writer. She’s also a photographer, and spends most of her time taking pictures.