Our Karachi

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Chapter 5

Defense View, late night.....

As the phone rang Samreen was terrified, she was fast asleep, her cell kept on buzzing, she didn’t want to pick it, but it buzzed and buzzed, the ringtone was irritating for her, at last she switched the bed lamp and took the cellphone from the side table, she stared the screen with half closed eyes, an unknown number....she knew what was about to come, suddenly the cell stopped buzzing, she was relieved, but it rang again, Samreen looked at the screen, unknown number, she received the call on second ring and said: “hello....”

“So bitch you won’t stop your activities....” came a harsh male voice.

“Shut up you bastard....” she cried in frustration and threw her cellphone with all her force to the wall, the cellphone hit the wall and fell into two pieces on the floor, its battery came out and for rest of the night she was unable to sleep.

Samreen’s parents died in a road accident when she was six years old, she was handed over to her maternal uncle Shakeel, who was a businessman dealing in electronic goods, he had five sons, in that way Samreen was isolated her early childhood. Pakistan during late eighties and early nineties was going through a shift of paradigm, bloody Zia regime had just ended, but its remaining were still to be found in the society, religion had an important place in everyday life, people were living under such a fear that they wanted to wash their hands according to the religion, they wanted to sleep according to religion, eat and drink according to it, as they were told that their religion is complete code of life and the only way to paradise.

In those days women and girls were asked to remain silent, they were not allowed to give their opinions, nor were allowed to talk in loud voice, even the six and seven years old girls were told to cover their tiny bodies behind huge veils, when Samreen was ten years old, one day she tried to ride her cousin Iffy’s bicycle in the garden of house, her fat aunt Nazish saw her from the window and screamed at her, Samreen became so petrified that she was unable to speak for two days, she retired to a lonely corner and cried. This incident made her to think about discrimination against female children, when she started to question this, she was asked to shut up and told that our religion and traditions teach us to do so. This vague idea motivated Samreen to learn more about everything and have an opinion, when she passed her intermediate, she was asked by her uncle to marry Waqar, her third cousin, but she refused saying:

“I want to study uncle.”

“What the hell are you saying,” her uncle didn’t expect such an answer: “we have everything and you had had enough of this bullshit of studies....” This made her stubborn and she stood against her uncle’s decision, and got admission in Karachi University for degree in Psychology, her uncle refused to pay her bills, so she became a part time salesgirl at a departmental store at 70 Clifton, she was sent to ladies’ undergarments section, she found that most of the ladies coming to shop were even shy to choose their desired bras and panties, or mention their sizes to young salesgirls.

It was a Sunday afternoon, she saw her aunt entering the departmental store, where she worked and was shocked to see Samreen selling bras and panties to some fat ladies, Samreen’s eyes met with her aunt’s and she bowed her head down in shame. That evening, when she returned home, Uncle Shakeel burst out at her like thunder and pointing a finger shouted:

“I don’t want to see your dirty face again in this house,” and threw her out with her bags, she stayed in a local hotel for a week, till she got a room in Working Women’s Hostel at Hassan Square. She used public transport to go to her university and work place and noticed that there were lips teasing her, eyes following her, she thought all males wanted was to see her naked, soon she realized that her biggest drawback was to remain silent.... No one should remain silent against injustice, she used think: people must speak out or they would die of suffocation.

After completing her degree, she entered the development sector, but was sexually harassed by her team leader on the fifth day, but this time she didn’t remain silent and burst out, she went to the management and the person was fired from his job, she was delighted over this little victory and celebrated it by having a little party for herself at Alpino Ice Cream Parlor.

Then Aisha came in her life, she was forty five years old human rights activist, they met with each other during a meeting of project regarding early child education, which several ngos had got simultaneously. Aisha became her good friend. They started spending a lot of time together.

They were attending a seminar at Regent Plaza, during lunch time Aisha told her:

“Dear it is my desire to give people a platform, where they could share their ideas, speak about different topics, share their problems.”

“It is an interesting idea,” Samreen said with a smiling face.

“I have a vacant apartment at Defense View and want to utilize it for such activities,” Aisha said: “but don’t know how to arrange such meetings?” There was silence for some moments, Samreen was lost in her thoughts and then she said:

“I can help you with that.”

“Oh really!” Aisha said, she seemed relieved.

That night they discussed about the idea of opening an open discussion cafe during dinner and both agreed to be partners in the cafe, it was decided that Samreen would look after the management of the cafe and FTS on the second floor started to function. For first two months they were able to get only six members, but slowly and gradually their membership increased, one year ago Aisha was sent by her organization to Sweden for two years training program, she handed over the cafe to Samreen.

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