Each week we spotlight three pieces of writing from our longlist. This year's non-fiction writing is characterised by its honesty and courage in dealing with difficult subjects from grief and bereavement to dysfunctional family relationships and abortion. Portraits of mothers and grandmothers delve deep into questions of identity and patriarchy while places and scenarios are conjured with an assurance that is particularly evocative and resonant of Pakistan.Yet our writers manage to avoid unremitting bleakness, finding sparks of humour and light in unexpected places.

SPOTLIGHT

Colorful Tears
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?

Manal Ahmed

Feeling Mom's Tummy
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.”

Zainab Hassan

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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.

Memoonah Zainab

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On Swimming

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.

Komal Waqar Ali

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Porridge

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.

Anaam Afridi

Red Scarf
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.

Sasha Zuberi

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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. 

Nirvana Amjad

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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.

Aimun Faisal

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The Art of precious Scars

Motherhood had forced me to look down a deep, dark well and find my courage… Courage that helped me realize that all of us women were a patchwork of similar experiences, writhing our way through broken glass. 

 Artwork by the Author

Kehkashan Khalid

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(Be)Longing

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.

Alishae Abeed

Family Dispute
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.

Minahil Khan

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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.

Noreen Sharif

Women Holding Hands
Threads

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.

Arsala Jameel Farooqui

Helping Hands
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? 

Samia Altaf

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Quarantine

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.

Saira Mahmood

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Arrested Development

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.

Musfira Shaffi

Her Majesty
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.

Nuwera Akmal