PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN IN PAIN
Raniya is from Lahore and and won the Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition in 2014 at the age of 15. She is currently studying for her Master’s degree in English Literature at King’s College, London and is working on launching a digital literary magazine called Spacebar.
An experiential examination of womanhood in Pakistan that weaves a picture that is at once personal and prosaic as well as universal and profound. A clever, multi-dimensional piece full of memorable one-liners and razor-sharp wit. An original voice with a striking command of her craft.
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID
The first two paragraphs shook me so much. All one has to do is read them to see that this woman has an amazing literary base - AR
There is anger, there is humour, there is hope. Moreover, there are questions: of what subtler things harassment takes from you, of agency, of the uncomfortable spaces we occupy because we must, and of the degree to which our identity defines us and we define it. She chooses complexity over easy answers every time and the result is wonderful. - SV
Just beautiful - the microcosm of Ladies Hour at the Islamabad Club Pool as a place without patriarchy is a captivating yet tragic depiction of womanhood in Pakistan - AA
Ayesha Alizeh Arbab
Ayesha is a writer, artist and architect from Karachi, interested in exploring the relationship of the political to different art forms.
An evocative piece of writing, that takes one seemingly mundane complaint and allows it to unfurl into an unsettling psychological study. The writing deftly creates a suffocating atmosphere and sense of foreboding, exploring the claustrophobia of the domestic sphere – a theme especially pertinent during lockdown.
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID
It reads like a horror film with a feeling of intense foreboding before it turns into mundane human misery. At first this takes it down a notch before you realise its even more horrifying! - HK
It's the cyclic renewal of hope that makes this piece so painful -- we are there with the author and her mother, watching the light fade to despair every time.- SV
Powerful and suffocating. A remorseless examination of the feeling of being trapped without escape.-AA
FATHERS, BE GOOD TO YOUR DAUGHTERS
Tooba is a researcher and journalist based in Karachi. Her work has appeared in Dawn, Herald, Samaa Digital, NPR and HuffPo India. She’s interested in writing about Karachi’s old buildings and preserving archives.
An unsentimental, but emotive description of a harrowing moment and a complex familial relationship told with impressive clarity and courage.
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID
A very strong narrative - it felt like a thriller, like you were in Karachi. A great depiction of family and work relationships, the story is moving in an unexpected way. - AA
It is unique in addressing the relatable theme of a complicated father-daughter relationship. It makes us wonder: how does one forgive something so unforgivable? -HK
A tightly plotted tale well-told. The way she uses language means we are breathless when she is breathless, numbed when she is numbed. An author who remains in complete control of her narrative, whilst simultaneously making it feel naturalistic. -SV
Sara is a writer from Peshawar who thinks about writing more than she writes, and mostly she writes about women, or books, or books about women. She was the winner of The Missing Slate’s New Voices Competition in 2017. Her work has appeared in The News on Sunday.
A compelling piece of writing full of humour and wry wit that takes one absurd beauty standard and uses it to analyse overarching patriarchal structures. The author skilfully shows how western feminist theory is not always a match for lived reality in Pakistan.
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID
It brings the nuance of a racial lens to feminist body hair discourse -- expanding outwards to consider the intersection of colonialsm and patriarchy. Plus no Western feminist could ever have written this way about the way parents police the bodies of their daughters. - SV
An incredibly bold, courageous piece that will both shock and enhance understanding amongst Pakistani men on the plight of hairiness amongst Pakistani women. -AR
It was funny, moving, really enjoyable. It highlights the difference between being a Pakistani and white feminist - a very valid critique. -AA
Yumna is a lawyer based between Lahore and Islamabad. She occasionally writes stories as a respite from legal drafting. She believes in the healing power of behenchara and loves words in all their forms.
A warm, delicate and moving portrait of a complicated grandmother. Full of both grief and glory, it explores the hidden rebellions of women of different generations and examines how story-telling has a different sense of urgency for old and young.
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID
The skilful writing presents something we can all relate to. It is done perfectly, with real aplomb. There are no missteps; the pitch and language are perfect. -AR
A familiar theme that is highly elevated by the writing. The intergenerational nature of the work tackles the notion of judging our elders through the eyes of the present day. -HK
It handles the storytelling of a grandmother so well - the bits that you miss and the bits that you catch and the preciousness of those stories. The masterful use of language prevents it from being overly sentimental or mawkish. -SV
Angbeen is from Lahore, and is currently an undergraduate at the London School of Economics. When she’s not busy narrowly avoiding essay deadlines, she writes and makes podcasts for LSE’s student newspaper, The Beaver.
A brave memoir about how trying to conform to conventional notions of attractiveness in Pakistan manifests itself in debilitating body dysmorphia, and how the strength to resist such toxic pressure can be found in solidarity with other feminists.
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID
This a point of view which should be heard. It effectually describes the internal oppression of women’s bodies, the horrible feeling of being forced into clothes that you don't fit into. -AA
It is a breath of fresh air in that it is so different from the other stories in this collection. It portrays the taught hatred and dissonance that heavier women are made to feel towards their bodies. -HK
She manages to describe the trauma that comes from refusal to conform in a hyper-conforming society without drifting into self-pity. She brings self-awareness to her internal meditation in a way that is refreshing. -SV
Teaching my Mother How to Pronounce Suicide
I celebrate my 6th birthday at the women’s psychiatric ward, Ganga Ram Hospital, Lahore. Khala drives me there, stopping on our way to buy cake and a new shirt to wear.
I don’t want to grow up. In fact, I don’t give a flying chappal about being an adult. I don’t give a flying chappal about having “assets” or “a provident fund” or whatever a “fixed deposit account” is.
When the quarantine was announced, I barely flinched. Stay at home, the TV said, and I thought Sure, I have had two and a half decades worth of practice.
There was so much to see, to sense. The lushness of trees drooping under their own weight, leaning down to gently touch the nehr. The way the city quieted under the silent, gentle push of burgeoning black clouds.
I have been obsessed with uncovering my ancestry for as long as I can remember. I suppose the forbidden fruit is the most appealing. It glistens, almost revelling in the knowledge that no person shall touch it without consequence.
My Own Worst Enemy
Most of us have heard the refrain, ‘Aurat hi aurat ki sab se barri dushman hoti hai,’ at some point in our lives. For the longest time, hearing it made me think about my dadi ... hell-bent on sucking the joy and freedom from my life.
To Taste Mundanity in Movement
To be a woman, is to have the very act of walking, swimming, movement sexualized …I feel like my identity is built on two stilts, swerving away from each other at each step. Honour and movement.
Last Conversations: What We Talk About When We Talk of Death
We feel, when someone is dying, a new honesty, and lack of inhibition that in this awful event there is potential to say things that cannot otherwise be said. But what can one say about a lifetime of stuff in a few awkward sentences, in the last conversation? And can that be enough?
Arsala Jameel Farooqui
Ten minutes to go. I drum my fingers absently and look around the tepid corridor that doubles as a waiting room … I sit here by myself, surrounded by women who seem to have real problems ...I wonder why I am here.
A Grief of One's Own
Growing up, I often wondered: are there worse heartbreaks than death? ... What was it about the ending of my own love that had guided me to the loss that my mother had endured?
Love Unspoken, Love Unheard
I want you to know that I love you amma ... I need you to know that what frightens you is the same as what enrages me ... I need you to know that a better future for me is not possible unless it is a better future for you.
A Desk of One's Own
Had each of the women before me not made their own hopeful and terrifying journeys, I would not be sitting here at this desk – a desk of my own.
The Gift of Life
It was only when I found my mother sitting silently in her room one day, while she was still in the early days of the first trimester, did she respond to my look of distress with, “I always pray to God that I am never put in a situation where I must sin.”
How She Lived for Us
Caught in the fires of my father’s own suffering, my mother tried her best to extinguish them. … But the fires, too wild to be contained, burned down our house. Instead of sulking, she took it upon herself to rebuild one, brick by brick.
A Letter to My Dupatta
To some you were everything, to others you were not enough …As a constant among every story of every Pakistani woman, we all hold a distinct relationship with your embrace.
Komal Waqar Ali
As sweat trickles down my back, I imagine diving into a pool rippled by sunlight. I remember what it feels like to push against the water and have it yield to you.