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Pulp Fictions: Reading Pakistani Domesticity

Ali, Kamran Asdar, 1961Social Text, 78 (Volume 22, Number 1), Spring 2004, pp. 123-145 (Article)

Published by Duke University Press

For additional information about this article


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Pulp Fictions

Maulvi Saheb saw a packet with monthly Ismat printed on it. Beneath it, in red ink, the packet was addressed to Sheikh Irfan ul Haqs daughter. Maulvi Mehrban Ali could not believe his eyes. He forgot his own money order and returned home with a new story to tell. He relayed that a magazine bearing the name of Irfan ul Haqs daughter is lying at the post ofce to some of the more mature individuals in the neighborhood. But such news cannot be kept from people for long. Soon the news of magazines arriving for Irfan ul Haqs virgin daughter spread like wildre. Magazines coming for an unmarried daughter itself was embarrassing enough; furthermore, it had the daughters name on the envelope. Delhi is far away; who knows how many and what kind of men had read her name? Intezar Hussein, Ehsan Manzil

Kamran Asdar Ali

The above passage is from an Urdu short story by Intezar Hussein.1 The story narrates the changes within the domestic sphere in Indian Muslim households. Hussein gives us a sense of how religious reform, expanding educational opportunities for both genders, and colonial modernization in the rst quarter of the twentieth century undermined and challenged the more traditional aspects of middle-class Muslim life in North India. The communitys anxiety over a womans name being exposed to strangers is echoed in depictions of households from other parts of the Muslim world. For example, Assia Djebar, in her book Fantasia, similarly shows how her female relatives in colonial Algeria were scandalized when a postcard sent by her father arrived specically addressed to her mother. Hence the postcard, letter, or magazine subscription to a woman in the family became a metaphor for modernity, the public and the outside penetrating Muslim moral boundaries and domestic ethos. In this article I seek to understand the process of this change within the social context of contemporary Pakistani domestic space. I use examples from Urdu ction in popular womens magazines in order to comprehend how middle- and lower-middle-class literate women articulate notions of family, individuality, and sexual mores in a rapidly changing social and economic milieu of present-day Pakistan.2 In short, I will explore how popular Urdu writings tend to inform and represent domestic life. These Urdu magazines, known commonly as digests, contain a specic genre of short stories that are considered far below the highbrow
Social Text 78, Vol. 22, No. 1, Spring 2004. Copyright 2004 by Duke University Press.

literary production of more established yet less commercially successful literary journals. The closest translation of these narratives into a EuroAmerican idiom would be to compare them with Harlequin romances or television soaps. As these writings reect womens traditional roles as daughters, wives, and mothers, and predominantly portray women as sexually naive, passive, and submissive in their relationships to men, the similarities to Western romances are obvious. However, the comparison does not quite capture the particularity of the genre itself, which has deep social and cultural links to the development of the modern Urdu short story and also historically to the specically women-oriented narratives of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century North India. 3 This said, as much as these writings retain a dialogic relationship with high literary forms, they have in recent years attained a polyphonic tendency that contains a semblance of the carnivalesque (Bakhtin 1968); a carnival that typically combines critique and indecency that Rabelais relied on for his source (Willis 1989, 130). The multiplicity of voices and themes invoked in this genre have strains of the older oral tradition of womens storytelling and other forms of popular performances. That tradition, as Sumanta Banerjee (1990) shows for late-nineteenth-century Calcutta, included the transformation of the rural folk culture of songs, dances, theatrical performances, and recitations by the newly urbanizing poor men and women. These popular creative expressions were condemned by the modernizing Indian elite and colonial ofcials as vulgar and voluptuous (Banerjee 1990), as they had not yet been disciplined and sanitized by the more modernist and somewhat veiled literary forms (Najmabadi 1993). To be sure, this article is not an exhaustive survey of the literature.4 To investigate the domestic sphere in contemporary Pakistan, I present two short stories from a popular Urdu digest published in the 1990s. I analyze these narratives beyond established reading practices of Harlequin romances and popular womens writings in the West; although such practices are critically attuned and sympathetic to female voices, they also share a progressive agenda of emancipatory politics (see, among others, Modleski 1982, Radway 1984).5 The question for me is not to nd a preconceived progressive or retrogressive politics in the texts. I suggest a reading that may enable us to move away from liberal modernist interpretive strategies that force the plurality of social life into the representational apparatus of a particular political philosophy, no matter how different the circumstances within which the philosophy originated might be from the culture under study (Chakrabarty 1995, 757). With this in mind, the task before me is to translate the particular cultural and historical milieu of the narratives into a sociological language while remaining sensitive to the plurality of interpretive possibilities open to us.6


Kamran Asdar Ali

My reading also positions the production and reception of these narratives as a challenge to those aspects of dominant Pakistani national culture that historically can be traced to the reformist politics of the Muslim elite in North India. In this regard digests and the genre of writings discussed below complicate, pollute, and corrupt the sanitized and moral renderings of a Muslim polity commonly found in the representations of Pakistani society favored by the Pakistani political and social elite.

The nationalists refused to negotiate with the colonial power on the

Muslim Reform and Womens Literature

To situate the argument it is important to look at womens literature linked to the reform of Muslim domestic space in colonial India. In a much-cited work, Partha Chatterjee (1993) shows how Bengali nationalists sought to close the domestic space to colonial penetration through constructing the categories of home (spirituality and culture) and the world (modern science, materialism, and technology). He argues that the issue of female emancipation disappears from the public agenda of nationalist discourse because the nationalists refused to negotiate with the colonial power on the womens question and the inner space. But as much as Indian nationalists resisted the penetration of the inner space by colonial discourse, the changes they advocated were always a reection of the outer public domain. To reform domestic space, albeit on their own terms, and to claim moral superiority over the colonial agenda, was also to concede a lack in the nations present (Prakash 1999, 158). Hence, the reforms instituted within households were always under the shadow of colonial governmentality; criticizing it by articulating alternate values, yet continuously inuenced by and in dialogue with it. In the same work, Chatterjee also argues that Bengali Muslims were, however, excluded from the formation of this national identity. Hence, the reformulations of Muslim domestic space needed further negotiations between the Muslim elite, its Hindu nationalist counterpart, and the British colonial power. Within this context, in the late nineteenth century Muslim reformers resisted the rising Western cultural hegemony by emphasizing sharia (Islamic laws) and the advancement of Muslim cultural heritage. Muslim religious reformers, like the Deobandi Ulema, also published religiously oriented reformist texts in which they advised women to distance themselves from the realm of custom (deemed as superstitious, un-Islamic, and irrational).7 Adherence to reformed practices helped some women gain more rights within the emerging middle-class households. To accept the authority of men in the interpretation of religious practice provided a future in which rewards and divine blessings were to be the same as those

womens question and the inner space.

Reading Pakistani Domesticity


received by men. Literacy skills and modes of reformed behavior opened spaces for these women to articulate their rights in marriage and property. Yet the gains were at the cost of losing separate spheres of female activity that were condemned by the religious reform movement as the realm of the nafs, the area of lack of control and disorder.8 Such reformist tendencies are also seen in the works of Nazir Ahmed, a more secularly oriented nineteenth-century Urdu novelist who wrote award-winning texts on womens domestic life and education (see Naim 1984).9 In his novels Ahmed stresses the reconguration of the Muslim household, where practicality and reason would triumph over superstition and irresponsible behavior. In his several books he emphasizes how the British have reason and aql (wisdom), portraying them as embodiments of progress and practicality, which enables them to rule India from thousands of miles away. During the rst part of the twentieth century, the social inuence of these early reformers and the compulsions of the new era led to an increased interest in womens education among the middleand upper-middle-class Muslim families (primarily North Indian).10 Some of this social agenda was taken up by womens journals that competed for attention among a small group of literate Urdu-speaking female readers (Minault 1998). These magazines, such as Ismat, Purdah Nashin, and Khatun, emphasized the benets of the new educational opportunities for women as they improved their housekeeping and child-rearing skills (Minault 1998, 133).11 By and large, the advice given to women in these journals was restricted to sharif bibias (respectable women) who could dene and set themselves apart from the popular and coarse culture of the street and the rural areas. This was a tiny group indeed. In 1924 merely 137,800 Muslim (four out of every thousand) women qualied as literate, and out of these only 3,940 had received some Western learning (Jalal 1991, 81). However, female voices in such journals also provided competing visions to an essentially upper-class male discourse of creating citizen-subjects for the future Muslim nation. Similarly, on the one hand, organizations like Anjuman-e-Khawateen-e Islam, or the All India Muslim Ladies Conference, founded in the early part of the twentieth century, contested those national organizations that claimed to speak for all Indian women (Jalal 1991, 83). On the other, they worked for the social and educational uplift of the Muslim woman. Through such vehicles, upper-class Muslim women questioned male-centered representations of the domestic and called on their own for more education, autonomy, and independence for women. Further, as much as they shared the reformist male agenda, the women themselves held diverse opinions on issues of gender segregation, wage work, secularization, veiling, and Islamic revival. The consensus for social change was mitigated by


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womens own response to the evolving situation. Irrespective of patriarchal social norms, middle- and upper-class women did shed the seclusion of their households to acquire education, yet they still veiled themselves in public and studied in segregated institutions. In this regard one of the main contributions of the Anjuman-e-Khawateen-e-Islam was to introduce a new style of burkha a garment that covers women to their ankles patterned on the Turkish model (Minault 1981).12 By the late 1930s, many Muslim women had transgressed boundaries, albeit on their own terms, and left their homes to acquire an education, work in public spaces, and increasingly participate in politics.13 Representing this trend between the 1930s and 1950s, a group of Muslim women writers exploded onto the male-dominated Urdu literary scene. Ismat Chughtai, Qurutul ain Haider, Rashid Jahan, Hajra Masroor, and Khadija Mastur are some among the many who have since become eminent in this sphere. Highly critical of the older reformist literature, these writers constantly undermined the class-based pedagogical underpinnings of the earlier writings. Taboo themes like sexuality, interreligious romance, and antipatriarchal politics were openly discussed. Some, like Chughtai, were initially condemned for being vulgar and indecent. But their works have survived and are respectfully included in the pantheon of Urdu literature. Important as social critics in depicting the changing norm within the Muslim domestic realm, these voices have remained limited to a narrow percentage of the reading public because of their high literary style and small-scale publishing venues. In conjunction with the more highbrow literary works, an ongoing tradition of Urdu novels and short stories specically targets middle-class female readers. This genre borrows heavily from the more established techniques of Urdu literary writings but thematically is more attuned to domestic life. Authors like Razia Butt and A. R. Khatoon are famous among Urdu-speaking households in the subcontinent for their productivity within this genre. Pakistans independence, along with expanding urbanization and educational opportunities, has resulted in the growth of the commercial market for mass publication of multiple magazines and for diverse media outlets serving the various demands of the newly consolidating urban middle and lowermiddle classes.

Pakistani Urban Space: Ethnicity and Gender

Since Pakistans creation in 1947 as the homeland for Muslims of South Asia, the country has been a conguration of shifting alliances and competing political and social ideologies. One dominant feature of the state

Reading Pakistani Domesticity


has been the nonresolution of its ethnic problem. Culturally, the Mohajirs (literally, refugees, those who migrated from India) along with the majority Punjabi ethnic group have been the most closely linked with Muslim nationalism and with Urdu as being the Pakistani national language (see Zaman 2002).14 Almost half a century after its independence and more than thirty years after the creation of Bangladesh, the Pakistani state has been unable to resolve the question of national integration of its many cultures and diverse linguistic groups. Where English has remained the language of government and commerce, Urdu has retained its pivotal place. Urdus dominance of the cultural center has bred a sense of exclusion among other linguistic groups leading to a proliferation of ethnic nationalism and the strengthening of regional identities, which further hinders the emergence of a national culture that democratically includes the diverse voices and languages present in the Pakistani cultural spectrum. The politics of ethnic difference linked to urbanization and ruralurban migration has led to ethnic and social heterogeneity in most urban spaces. For example, if we take Karachi as a microcosm of Pakistani social life, we see a glimpse of the nations history unfold with all its social and political tensions. About half of Karachis growth since the 1970s is attributed to migration from rural and other urban areas of the country.15 In the twenty-rst century, Karachi remains the industrial, commercial, and trade center of Pakistan, as well as its major port. Its home to approximately 8 percent of Pakistans population and 24 percent of the urban population (Zaidi 1999). Spatially, the city is segregated into privileged neighborhoods with private security arrangements (a phenomenon seen globally in major cities) and independently managed social services. Its phenomenal growth has resulted in the maldistribution of civic resources to the poorest of its population. These social and spatial processes are partly reected in a politics of consolidation of various communities on the vertical axis of ethnic identication and religious groupings, making Karachi in the 1990s one of the most violent metropolises in South Asia. Within this context of cultural politics, urbanization, and ethnic polarization the Pakistani state has, as in other postcolonial societies, periodically tackled the demands for female emancipation connected to discourses on cultural authenticity. Womens changing status in Pakistan has been portrayed largely linked with the role of Islam in the modern state. The political question has been how civil and gender rights that are common in Western societies can be reconciled with Islamic family law within a Muslim polity. The passage of Muslim Personal Law in 1948, which gave women the right to inheritance under sharia, and the Family Law Ordinance in 1961 are seen as major victories in this struggle. The latter did provide some legal curbs against polygyny, expanded the right for


Kamran Asdar Ali

women to initiate divorce proceedings, and also dealt favorably with inheritance rights for women. Its impact on the lives of a large majority of women in Pakistan, who remain illiterate and also live under the rule of more restrictive social conventions, has been minuscule. The state, at least in this instance, sought primarily to regulate the private sphere (Rouse 1998, 55). Bangladeshs independence from Pakistan after a protracted and brutal civil war in 1971 forced the Pakistani military to hand over power after thirteen years of rule to the elected civilian government led by Zulquar Ali Bhutto. Bhuttos more socially progressive and populist government that came into power with the slogan Roti, Kapra aur Makan (food, clothing, and shelter) is seen as an important milestone in the history of womens rights. During this period, the state passed the 1973 constitution that for the rst time guaranteed full citizen rights to women. The Bhutto government also signed the U.N. Declaration on Womens Rights, set up a Womens Institute, and promised universal education for both genders, yet it did little to ensure that such measures had permanence (Rouse 1996, 62). Moreover, neither the Family Ordinance Law nor the various populist efforts during the Bhutto years signicantly raised the issue of violence against women. Rather, Bhuttos progressive regime with all its populist rhetoric and pro-women stance is remembered by many for its political intimidation of opponents and its threats against their women (Jalal 1991). General Zia-ul Haqs regime (1977 88) ousted Bhutto with a military coup in 1977. Along with the laws that discriminated against minorities and curtailed civil rights in Pakistan, the issue of womens honor and sexuality became one of the most important aspects of Zias regime. The Hudood Ordinance in 1979 instituted harsh punishments for adultery. Poor women have been the main victims of these laws, which are still on the books today.16 Of course, like anywhere else, Pakistani women have varied histories and abilities to negotiate state-imposed and social restrictions. Hence, in what Ayesha Jalal (1991) calls the phenomenon of convenience of subservience, most women from the middle and upper strata, even under the most antiwomen regimes, have retained social and familial privileges as long as they did not transgress social norms (78). Keeping the history of state repression of womens rights in perspective, studies on women in Pakistan have largely been written in the context of the struggle of elite and urban women against the antiwomen laws and structural changes that have adversely affected womens lives. Important as this literature has been, such representations have traditionally ignored the experiences of the majority of poor and rural women and womens domestic experiences. They have also been framed in a teleological grid

Reading Pakistani Domesticity


as histories of progress and setbacks.17 To circumvent these thematic lacks and ideological underpinnings, Shahnaz Rouse (1996) has argued for a return to sources where we nd women speaking in nonpublic spaces. The proposed remedy seeks to incorporate the analysis of Pakistani womens autobiography, diaries, ction, and journals to enhance our work on the private sphere of their lives. Thus my close reading of popular ction focuses on those aspects of Pakistani contemporary life that are generally underrepresented in social-scientic literature by ushing out aspects of Pakistani social history that remain hidden in the margins and interstices.

Pulp Fiction
Since independence Pakistan has seen a steady yet extremely slow increase in education levels for women. The current national literacy rate of 16 percent for women as compared with 35 percent for men conceals a major rural-urban differential within it. The literacy rate for urban women is 37.3 percent, more than ve times the rate of rural Pakistani women (7.3 percent). In recent years, because of economic pressures and the dissolution of extended families in urban areas, many more women are working for wages than in the past. Recent estimates put the level at between 15 and 20 percent of the labor force, which is a conservative guess, as traditional notions of propriety lead families to conceal the extent of work performed by women.18 The increased level of education and wage-based employment among urban women has transformed the publishing industry in Pakistan. Until the 1960s audiences for digests were gender neutral. Except for older established reformist magazines for women like Ismat, most digests included a specic womens section or an interest column for women. In the 1960s and 1970s competing womens magazines emerged that targeted different readerships. Publishers focused upon younger urban working women who were leaving domestic spaces to work as stenographers, telephone operators, bank clerks, and schoolteachers. Some digests were pitched to women studying in Urdu medium colleges in middleclass neighborhoods of larger Pakistani cities. Other publishers went after the growing number of female readers in smaller towns where substantial numbers of women were acquiring at least a high-school diploma if not a higher college degree. The popularity of these digests has been phenomenal. According to advertising expenditure data, the number of magazines published in Pakistan grew from 214 in 1993 to 406 in 2000. The majority were womens magazines, in Urdu. The same sources document that about 7 percent of the adult population of 141.5 million read these


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magazines. Womens digests such as Pakeeza or Dosheeza have monthly circulations of 60,000 copies reaching an average of 300,000 adult readers, far more than the rst run of the most respectable literary publications.19 Moreover, they have helped create and consolidate a whole industry of female writers, editors, sketch artists, and designers who make a living through the publication of these digests. I chose the following stories because they represent contemporary examples within the genre of popular womens ction in Urdu. Over the past two decades, Pakistani society has seen an increase in trafc, restaurants, video outlets, expensive boutiques (Rouse 1998, 61). It has also witnessed a diminishing of female presence on the urban streets linked to an increase of public and domestic violence against women. In an increasingly hostile and restricting public sphere, the stories may represent social aspirations of lower-middle-class women, who have to brave public spaces without the social protections that class bestows on elite women. The stories discussed below statistically may not be the norm. In my reading of various digests of the past several years, however, I periodically encountered similar themes in several forms. Most of these stories were published in the 1990s, and the overtly sexual content of the following narratives may perhaps reect the opening of social space that digest publishers and women writers have experienced after the more censored atmosphere of the Zia era. These particular stories were published in the journal Pakeeza in 1995, which, like others of its kind, caters to a range of readership. Digests like Pakeeza consist of various sections: interviews with celebrities, cooking tips, Q&A columns, and several different fashion spreads. One of the most popular sections is three women three stories. The editors introduce these stories, which are edited, as true depictions of womens lives.20 Women are encouraged to send in their stories to share personal social and moral dilemmas with the larger reading audience. The stories discussed below are taken from this section. In Chains [Zanjeer], the protagonist, a woman named Salma, narrates her story in a long ashback sequence. She tells us that she lived with her family in a small town in former East Pakistan. There, her family was close to two Urdu-speaking families, Rahmans and Naseers, who lived nearby. She liked both of them but had particular feelings for Rahman. She thought that if permitted to choose her lifes partner she would choose Rahman, as he wanted to succeed in life by acquiring higher education. In contrast, Naseer, although a friend, was more money minded in his outlook toward life. Time passed, and the families moved to West Pakistan long before Bangladeshs independence. The families remained friends and prospered. Salmas parents received marriage proposals for

Reading Pakistani Domesticity


her from both the families. Given a choice, she decided in favor of Rahman, whom she had always liked and admired, and who now had a respectable job. The preparations for her wedding were under way when the news arrived that Naseer had had an accident in which he lost a leg. The wedding was postponed. A few weeks later Rahman informed Salma that she had to give up the idea of marrying him and instead marry Naseer. He said that not marrying her was a huge sacrice for him, but Naseer had begged him to consider it. Naseer had told him that as he was now handicapped, no woman would ever look at him again, and he would become a social outcast. Rahman implored Salma to marry Naseer; initially, she resisted the idea, but then she agreed. On the wedding night Naseer came into the room. After giving her an expensive present and talking to her, he went and lay down on the sofa without touching her, while she remained waiting for him on the bed until dawn. The same thing was repeated every night. Naseer would come into the room but not near her. Salma describes her feelings by saying,
Why was he treating me like this? I keep on burning. After all, I am a woman. I cannot say much, but I was worried. I felt unwanted. Marriage also means something else; was he taking revenge? But after our wedding I have never even thought of Rahman. I am an Eastern girl. Our upbringing compels us to live only for our husbands. My respect and love is only for Naseer now, can he not see that?

After some months had passed, Naseer told Salma how he had succeeded in his determination to marry her. Further, he said that in the accident he had lost not only his leg but also his masculinity he was impotent. Salma was shocked by this news. He asked her for a divorce, as he was ashamed of what he had done.21 Salma was furious and said that she would never divorce him because that would set him free. She was his wife and she would remain so, but she would never forgive him and see to it that he received adequate punishment for his deeds. In the days that followed, Salmas demeanor toward Naseer changed, and she became more affectionate toward him. After a few years she persuaded him to move to Islamabad from Karachi. They bought a house outside the city in a fairly deserted new neighborhood. Within a few years of living there most of their relatives passed away. Normally, Naseer slept without his articial leg. One day, while Naseer was sleeping, Salma removed the leg from the room and threw it away. When Naseer woke up, he started screaming, but Salma did not respond, knowing full well that he could not move without his articial limb. After


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a few days she mixed some tranquilizers in the food, and when she was sure that he was asleep she went in and tied him in chains, which she pushed through a hole in the wall, and secured it to a heavy iron bar in the garden outside. The chains allowed Naseer only to move around in the room and go to the bathroom. Naseer was totally under her control. After a few days of shouting and screaming he became docile and passive. Salma, during this same period, became depressed herself. She started taking care of Naseer; changing his clothes, combing his hair, washing him. Eventually, as days passed, she felt herself falling in love with him. She would take care of all his needs, read him the newspaper, and make the foods he liked. She realized that he was not the only prisoner: she herself had become his captive. If he was conned to the room, she was also trapped in the house. Thirty years after their marriage and years after she had chained him, one morning when she called him for breakfast, he did not respond. He had passed away, nally escaping from his imprisonment. The story renders a sense of Pakistani history and geography that makes the terrain very familiar to the native reader. The invocation of East Pakistan, of Bangladeshs independence, the move to Karachi, as mentioned above, Pakistans largest city and commercial center, and then Islamabad, the sleepy capital where the protagonist could live unnoticed by her neighbors for years, all provide a cultural and spatial context for the story. The story also lends itself to a range of readings. The afrmation of the Eastern girl as faithful, self-sacricing, and unsure of herself all reestablish stereotypes. Her violence can also be interpreted as a classic trope of the revengeful woman. Even though she identies with her captive and falls in love with him, she proclaims, I was not ready to free him; I had to take revenge. Her rekindled love for Naseer also allows us to indulge in a reading that can attribute this act as seeking pleasure through inicting pain on her lover-husband. Can we translate her actions into the idiom of sadomasochism? Is Naseers consent not necessary in the liberal formulation of this pleasurable practice? Before following this line of thinking, I would argue for caution, as it is difcult to x the precise sociological meaning of how Salma receives pleasure in her acts. To inscribe a practice from another cultural space onto Salmas actions may be an act of excessive translation. (For example, although German brot and French pain both refer to the same object (bread), they are culturally specic and historically unique [Benjamin 1968].) Yet Salma does give and receive sexual pleasure and, in so doing, challenges perceptions of proper behavior within polite Pakistani society. Salmas predicament is multilayered. The choice of partners, the

Reading Pakistani Domesticity


adjustment to married life, betrayal, her right of conjugal pleasure, and her revenge are some of the more obvious themes. Her narrative may resonate with women who feel trapped in nonsexual or bitter marriages. It is a fantasy that may have broad appeal not only in Pakistan but also in many other cultures. Irrespective of the moral language, Salmas actions can be read extremely sympathetically. Further, although Salma explicitly condemns her own measures, specically through her periodic voicing of self-doubt, her sexual practices are presented as one of the many forms through which people give and receive pleasure. Denunciation and disapproval of assertive or deviant sexual practices, in a Foucauldian sense, coexist with the proliferation of a discourse about them. There are, of course, two levels at which pleasure can be analyzed here, one experienced by Salma and the other by the reader. We can perhaps assume an individualized pleasure by the reading subject who is experiencing a performance, a privatized carnival in the shape of a polyphonic text that also portrays the grotesque features of a handicapped chained person. It is a fantasy that questions social conventions from a specically female point of view. The transgressive potential of this carnival, as Stallybrass and White (1986) point out, is perhaps limited because the social force of a public carnival is shifted to the private space of individualized readership. Yet such stories force the concerns of the domestic private sphere into a more public domain of popular literature. In doing so they not only challenge the representational norms of literary production, but also critically insert a different narrative on womens personal histories (Willis 1989). Before developing a broader analysis, let me turn to my second narrative. Loosely translated as The Great Sin [Gunnah Kabeer], the story starts in the northern Pakistani town of Charsaddah, and also ends there via a detour to the ghettos of the southern city of Hyderabad. It begins with the protagonist, Zaitoon, marrying a forty-year-old man, Aziz Khan, who was home on leave from his work in Hyderabad. The bride is described as being in her late teens. Only three months after the wedding he wanted to return to Hyderabad. When Zaitoon asks him to stay, he says that he does not have much interest in women and that he married her because of family pressure. Aziz Khan impregnates his wife before leaving, however, and does not return for ve years. During this period Zaitoon gives birth to a child, Ameer Khan. A few months after her husbands second visit, Zaitoon travels with her young son to live with Aziz Khan in Hyderabad. She nds the abject poverty of their urban existence extremely difcult to adjust to. Leaving a semirural life, she is forced to adjust to the dark and airless hovels that are the residences of the urban


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poor in Pakistani cities. Soon they have another child, and within a year Aziz Khan is killed in an electrocution accident at his work, leaving Zaitoon alone with two children to care for. To support them she starts washing dishes in middle-class homes. In a few years, her son Ameer Khan becomes an apprentice in an automobile workshop and earns a little money. Time passes, and the familys living standards improve as Ameers income increases. Zaitoon is able to work less. She remains worried about Ameer, however; every evening he goes out with friends whom she does not know. She occasionally hears rumors that Ameer is associating with the wrong kind of people. One day Ameer tells his mother that he is going to Karachi and will not live in Hyderabad anymore, as his master has passed away, and he does not want to continue to work at the workshop. One day Ameer comes home with a young woman whom he introduces as his wife, Gulzar. Zaitoon is taken by surprise and is angry. All along she has dreamed of her sons wedding, and he has turned up with a woman by his side. Having no choice, she accepts the girl as her daughterin-law. After some months, Zaitoon suggests that Gulzar get pregnant. She insists that Gulzar should go to a doctor for a checkup, as women with small breasts, according to her, are prone to infertility. Gulzar resists these demands until one day they have an argument. When Ameer comes home from work, Gulzar says that she cannot stay in the same house with her mother-in-law anymore. Zaitoon gets angry and explains that she has simply asked Gulzar to go to the doctor. At this stage Kabeer, the younger brother, says that Zaitoon should not have insisted, as Gulzar cannot have children because she is a man. Zaitoon cannot believe what she hears. Kabeer describes how he had accidentally entered the bathroom while Gulzar was taking a bath and had seen everything. Ameer conrms this is true. Gulzar is the son of wealthy family in Karachi, but because of their mutual love he is willing to live in a hovel. Now both of them leave together, never to return. Zaitoon has a half brother in Charsaddah and decides to return to her ancestral land before Kabeer gets involved in what in her mind are immoral acts. She sells her house and arrives at her brothers place. The brother runs a restaurant, and Kabeer starts sitting at the cash register. Kabeer is a handsome young man, and soon the Khans (local elite) start coming to the restaurant after hearing about his beauty. The uncle laughs and makes fun of Kabeer because of his many suitors, but Zaitoon is worried. One day, news circulates that Kabeer has been murdered by a jealous Khan, who is himself killed by a rival lover. A ght breaks out among the supporters of the different Khans, and the restaurant is burned

Reading Pakistani Domesticity


to the ground. Zaitoon is devastated and now waits out her last days writing this piece for us to hear her tragic story. Zaitoons story of betrayal, and her social and economic hardship, fall into a genre of representation in Pashtun culture that emphasizes gham (sorrow) and suffering as a form in which female folk narratives are constructed. Remaining within this genre of representation, this story has a more realist setting than the previous one and a complex sociological background. The suggestion of Aziz Khan being from Charsaddah cannot be translated. It conveys, in unsaid forms, to many Pakistani readers a moral geography and a certain ethnic marker connected to a sexual economy in which same-sex relations among men are acceptable.22 It is a stereotypical construction of Pashtun ethnicity. As much as rural Pashtun men travel far and wide to nd work and sell their labor, their negative construction also compels middle-class families in many urban areas to frighten their children from the Kabuli-wallah 23 who prey on adolescent boys. Pashtun or otherwise, it is common for urban boys traveling to school in crowded public buses to sometimes live the reality of men pressing against them and learn to deal with it on their own terms. These realities are shared and experienced by urban men and women who grow up on the proverbial other side of the tracks in Pakistan. Moreover, same-sex desires are commonplace enough that the mostly female readership of such stories can easily identify with the homosexuality depicted in the story as an experience familiar to them within their own family structure. The moralizing on the issue of homosexuality notwithstanding, the story does let Ameer Khan afrm his love for Gulzar, and he leaves his mother to live with his partner. The story also depicts how Kabeer enjoys the attention he receives from his many lovers. Again, as in the previous story, denunciation of the practice by Zaitoon coexists with the representation of same-sex desire and the proliferation of talk about it. There is also a related point here. Pakistan in the last decade, as mentioned above, especially in its large southern cities like Karachi and Hyderabad, has experienced endemic ethnic violence and rivalry. Within this context we see two men, Gulzar who is depicted as a Muhajir (because he is from Karachi, a marker of Muhajir ethnicity) and Ameer a Pashtun (two rival ethnicities), falling in love, albeit Gulzar is the wife. Muhajir, as suggested above, are descendants of those families that migrated from various parts of India during and after the division of the subcontinent in 1947; Pashtun belong to the North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan and Central Asia. Not only are ethnic boundaries crossed, but class is also overcome, as Gulzar belongs to a middle-class family yet becomes involved with a man of Ameers social origins. The storys depic-


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tion of people from different ethnic and class backgrounds seeking to share common destinies is emblematic of late-twentieth-century Pakistan, where a diverse, multilingual, and ethnic population considers the challenges, pitfalls, and compromises of coexistence. I am not arguing that these stories are allegories of some larger national narrative, yet such stories do reect a changing cultural process and radically diverge from the older portrayals of Muhajir family life as an unmarked universalized experience in Pakistani Urdu literature. The storys move toward depicting other cultural and ethnic realities not only speaks to peoples own lived experience but may implicitly contest and undermine the dominance of Muhajir and Urdu cultural standards. Hence such stories should be read not only as moral sagas but as narratives that seek to represent the changing social and cultural space of contemporary Pakistan.24 The irony remains that this diversity of experience is mostly available to the multiethnic-multilingual literate readership through the Urdu language. The story also explicitly deals with the issue of rural migration and womens labor. Social changes in the last few decades in Pakistan have forced a large percentage of women from all classes to work in traditional and nonformal sectors of the economy. In urban areas the poorest women, like Zaitoon, often work as midwives, domestic servants, urban laborers, sweepers, and nannies for compensation outside the home. More often, poor urban women remain at home and sell manufactured goods to middlemen for compensation (Lewis 2001). Similarly, the narrative sensitizes us to the migrations of ethnically Pashtun laborers to the southern industrial cities of Karachi and Hyderabad, where they join the lower rung of the urban poor and are, like Aziz Khan, consumed by the city. Since the 1960s, Pashtun labor has been ruthlessly exploited in the textile industry, the least-unionized sector of Pakistans industrial spectrum. When Aziz Khan returns home after some years, he is shown to be suffering from lung disease brought on by his long hours in a cotton mill. It is such a factory that eventually takes his life. How the poor survive in their private and work life in Pakistans expanding cities are stories and histories that are yet to be told, or written.

Such stories should be read not only as moral sagas but as narratives that seek to represent the changing social and cultural space of contemporary Pakistan.

Romance novels, Cora Caplan (1984) argues in her reading of the 1977 novel The Thorn Birds, have helped women to become progressively reective about sexuality, but unreective and uninterested in thinking about politics. Fantasizing, she claims, is a constitutive part of being human, yet,

Reading Pakistani Domesticity


A recent article in the English press in Karachi condemns the stories in womens digests as intensely emotional and as stripping women of their individual identity.

she argues, we should also pay attention to the progressive or reactionary politics that these fantasies are bound up in. Such arguments in their less-sophisticated incarnations are echoed in Pakistani English-language press and in feminist academic volumes (see Hussain et al. 1997). Even though Urdu maintains a certain hierarchical relationship with other languages in its position as the state-sponsored national language, English still retains an elite status that Urdu has not been able to displace. English-language press at times takes on a modernist and pedagogical voice of social criticism against traditional, or backward, cultural practices. For example, analyzing the proliferation of romance stories in popular Urdu digests, a recent article in the English press in Karachi condemns the stories in womens digests as intensely emotional and as stripping women of their individual identity (Ahmar 1997). Linked to this loss of identity is the portrayal of women as commodities that are traded in the act of marriage to accomplish the preordained role of procreation. Such comments in the English press are partly emblematic of the larger cultural difference between Urdu and other national languages and the hierarchically arranged symbolic power of English in Pakistan. Borrowing from Arvind Rajagopals (2001) argument on the English and Hindi press in India,25 I argue that the English press in Pakistan is not only linked with secular and modernist ideals but also with a dened progressive politics steeped in the tradition of analytical, rational, and responsible reporting.26 This press signies a readership that might not wield the power it used to possess, yet still demarcates the context of sophisticated culture. The critiques offered of conservative ideals by English periodicals imagine the female consumers of Urdu digests as more traditional and as passive recipients of these narratives. These lower-middle-class women are represented as being trapped in a social milieu where change is stied by an authoritarian domestic realm. In contrast, implicitly, the English-speaking audience is constructed as graduating from Mills and Boon, Barbara Cartland, and other romance stories to more serious and enlightened European literature. An underlying argument about the English language makes such readers more critical and analytical, open to self-reection and to change. Urdu digests readership hence is constructed as victimized women who are crushed under the weight of patriarchy and need to be jolted out of their misery by some consciousness raising. It is akin to a universalizing narrative that privileges an assumed solidarity among women by abstracting out specic histories and local experiences (Butler 1998). In contrast to the dominant forms of readings in Pakistani elite circles, I suggest such ctions might be an intrinsic part of, as Arjun Appadurai (1996, 58)


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puts it, the conceptual repertoire of contemporary society. The themes discussed in contemporary stories such as Chains do not merely shock us but rather reassert a sociocultural milieu in which most women readers nd themselves. Women may come to these stories conscious of them as part fantasy and part reality, based on their own social experience and surroundings. Fantasies, as Fredric Jameson (1983) writes, reect our deepest desires and most fundamental hopes, but for them to be meaningful they also need to have a connection to our lived experience. For example, both stories portray womens anxieties about male betrayal and violence. Salma and Zaitoon are married to men who are not, in their terms, real men, one impotent and the other more interested in men. Although Salma seeks revenge for her treatment, Zaitoon does not have the class or material privilege to take that route. Within hypermasculine and dominant heterosexual social mores, these fantasies about inefcient men (the impotent, the homosexual) may, for example, resonate with womens anxieties about the sexually threatening public sphere in which the readers of these stories nd themselves in their everyday life. Along with the state guarantees to protect the honor of women, especially during the Zia regime, Pakistan has unfortunately witnessed a marked increase in cases of rape and domestic violence in the same period.27 As women increasingly become the victims of male violence, such stories allow us to fantasize about the reversal of the status quo. Still, the stories, at least the way I read them, are not entirely dismissive of the male characters and do sympathetically depict the choices they make. Therefore, the narratives force us to seriously consider how people fantasize, and imagine possibilities in shifting and ever-changing social situations. Their moral tone notwithstanding, these stories provide spaces where there is an exchange and negotiation of desires and of imagined lives. In the process these stories continuously escape the larger moral tropes they are structured into and transgress the very boundaries that they inhabit. Popular narratives may further offer a glimpse into some of the ways in which literate Pakistani households think about themselves. Reading these texts provides us with not only a sense of change and the shifts in peoples lives but also a representation (albeit a fragmentary one) of their own views on the body, self, and community. To carry this argument further, these notions of self and community can be sites of contestation for the universalized international standards of emancipation that constitute the agenda of modernization with its related emphasis on the liberal laws and the free market. It can constitute a narrative of peoples lives, as Partha Chatterjee (1993) so eloquently puts it, that is unyielding through its alternate constructions of the individual and the social to the disciplinary

Reading Pakistani Domesticity


and hegemonizing pressures of modern norms. Such a reading does not mean a rejection of modernity, or an attempt to resurrect some residual past; the idea is to situate other narratives of being and existence that are as much a part of modernity as the globalized history of progress and emancipation (Dhareshwar 1995). For us to appreciate the diversity contained within these stories, we must allow ourselves to critically investigate the teleological grid of modernist readings imposed upon these popular romances. In light of Chatterjees (1993) above-discussed suggestion, a critical reading of stories like Chains may make us aware of how in postcolonial spaces such as contemporary Pakistan, the construction of bourgeois individualism may be tempered by other visions of the self that coexists with it. Through Salmas own contradictory inclinations of revenge and of spousal service, we see a coming together of different worlds and impulses in the construction of her own self,28 a self that may accept, contradict, and even transgress the imposed construction of the mythical, yet desired emancipated autonomous individual.29 In such renderings we notice how womens assertions of their conjugal rights, situated within the construction of individualized agency, may cohabit with their desire to be modest, self-sacricial, subservient, and humble. Such illiberal representations are not that dissimilar to the forms in which pre-independence, middle-class, Muslim women, as shown earlier, left the seclusion of their homes to acquire education, yet did not shun the veil. Similarly, the same-sex relationships depicted in The Great Sin expose us to how poor urban men create sexual and social relationships in environments that have been historically hostile to them. Migration, the degradation of industrial labor, and the pressure to settle down and reproduce create spaces for a range of options. Men, women, and families respond to these circumstances in multiple scripts, none taking precedence over the other. Where early-twentieth-century reformist literature had its overt pedagogical task, the digests are a more uid and complex genre. I do not wish to argue that to have a sexual awareness of the kind depicted in these stories places women readers in a progressive moment in societys history. Such an attempt would merely help me reinsert Pakistani consumers of these stories into a historical trajectory that produces the humanistic subject. I also want to avoid labeling readers as falsely conscious, or condemn their reading habits as vicarious pleasure that does not lead to correct politics, labels and condemnations that are very much a part of progressive (elite) reading of such processes. Further, I do not want to assume that readers are ignorant of the effects of these stories. Rather, I have sought to use these texts to see how they may resonate in the larger


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community and how desires and fantasies are created in specic cultures and histories. These fantasies are embedded in social practices in a historical moment of economic insecurity and restrictive public space for urban women, along with a proliferation of urban lifestyle, global media, new art forms, cinema, and international migration. Therefore, popular narratives, the kind that I have discussed in this paper, remain local yet borrow from a variety of inuences. They represent local histories in a global moment, as these localized stories become aficted by cosmopolitan scripts that inuence domestic life along with other social processes in Pakistan. Hence, before succumbing to the desire of categorizing these fantasies into a rigid grid of progressive or retrogressive politics, it may serve some purpose to understand how these texts resonate with womens own experiences. Walter Benjamin (1968) argues that the task of translator is not to turn Hindi, Greek, or English into German; rather, it is to allow the power of the foreign language to penetrate the translation. I read this as a call for a culturally situated and historically grounded rendering of peoples lives, before imposing on them changes that have run their course in other cultural landscapes.

This article has been through many incarnations, and along the way I have beneted from comments and suggestions from Naz Aksehirlioglu, Nusrat Chowdhury, Ward Keeler, Gail Minault, Norma Moruzzi, Afsaneh Najmabadi, Bettina Ngweno, Carla Petievich, Martina Rieker, and Katie Stewart. I am grateful to Adnan Asdar and Mahboob Khan, who went to great lengths to gather and send me older editions of the digests. Earlier versions of this article were presented at Columbia University, the University of Chicago, the University of Rochester, and the University of Texas, Austin. I thank the hosts of those events for providing me a venue to share my work and the audiences for their valuable input and comments. Finally, I thank the editors of Social Text, especially Michle SharonGlassford and Gyan Prakash, for their critical reading and assistance in bringing this article to its nal shape. 1. My translation. 2. The magazines are marketed as womens magazines, but they are as popular among men from mostly the same class background. 3. Urdu is unique among the major literatures of South Asia for its emphasis on the short story as the primary genre of narrative ction (Mufti 2000, 9). See Mufti 2000 for a theoretically sophisticated treatment of this issue. 4. I am primarily interested in Urdu prose in this article. The history of Urdu poetry by women has a somewhat different trajectory and thematically may also allow for a variety of experiments. See Petievich 1992.

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5. See Dickey 1995 for an analogous analysis in the South Asian context. 6. I borrow this argument from Dipesh Chakrabartys Provincializing Europe (2000). 7. See Metcalf 1990 for an analysis of Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawis Beheshti Zewar. 8. Afsaneh Najmabadi (1993) eloquently details similar processes in turn-ofthe-century Iran. She shows how the advent of social modernity linked to new schools for girls and the new press transformed womens language and the domestic sphere. 9. During the midnineteenth century Nazir Ahmed rose from a humble background with training in the traditional subjects and in Arabic and Persian. Later he joined the educational services, became inspector of schools, and then was promoted to the revenue service, becoming deputy collector of revenue for the North Western provinces. 10. Nazir Ahmed; Sayed Ahmed, the founder of Aligarh Muslim University; and Altaf Husein Hali, among others, were a group of Muslim reformers who had experienced the revolt of 1857. British rule profoundly affected their lives henceforth (Minault 1998). 11. See Beth Baron 1994 and Lila Abu-Lughod 1998 for discussions of similar processes in early-twentieth-century Egypt and the Middle East. 12. These attempts have to be seen in contrast to the processes in other Muslim countries during the same period. In Iran, Egypt, and other parts of the Middle East the main struggle for feminists and educated women was the removal of the veil (see Badran 1995 especially for Egypt). 13. They were a crucial voting bloc that the Muslim League (the party seeking to represent the Muslims of British India) relied on during the 1945 46 elections. 14. It is indeed a popular assertion that Urdu was the language of North Indian Muslims. This claim is historically inaccurate, as in late nineteenth and even in the twentieth century Urdu was the rst language for many Hindus and Sikhs, and some of the most famous Urdu literary gures are non-Muslims (see Mufti 2000, Ahmad 1996). 15. It was one of the worlds fastest-growing cities between 1947 and 1972. With a growth rate of almost 5 percent between 1972 and the present, its population is estimated to have grown from 3.6 million to 13 million within this period (Zaidi 1999, 81). 16. In 1993, ve years after the end of Zias regime, 75 80 percent of all women in Pakistani jails were charged with Hudood offenses (Rouse 1998, 61). 17. Hence the famous title nods to Lenins tract notwithstanding of a 1987 book written by two Pakistani feminists (Khawar Mumtaz and Farida Shaheed), Women of Pakistan: Two Steps Forward, One Step Backward. 18. The 1980 Pakistan agricultural census showed that womens participation in agricultural labor was 73 percent. The 1990 91 Pakistan Integrated Household Survey indicated that female labor force participation in rural areas was 45 percent, with 17 percent in the urban areas; hence, a more realistic yet still conservative estimate of female participation in the labor force may lie between 30 and 40 percent (United Nations n.d.). 19. Pakistan 2001 2. 20. The editors of these magazines are mostly women who have college degrees in Urdu literature and are well informed about the literary trends in the


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country. How contributions are solicited, who the regular writers are, and how themes are identied are questions that require further research with the writers and editors and are beyond the scope of this article. 21. Pakistani Muslim personal law does give women the right of divorce under a range of circumstances if this has been stipulated in the marriage contract. Historically, several schools of Islamic jurisprudence give women the right of divorce in the case of a husbands impotency (Mussalam 1982). 22. In recent months, articles have appeared in the New York Times on the preference for boys among Pashtun men (Smith 2002). What is a lived experience for many in Afghanistan and Pakistan has now become available to the West as an example of liberated sexual politics. 23. This literally means those from Kabul. In South Asia, Afghan men have been long-distance traders of a variety of goods for centuries. 24. Of course, to incorporate an increasingly non-Muhajir readership it makes nancial sense for the publishers to accept and celebrate difference. 25. See chaps. 1, 4. 26. See Abbas 1993 for a discussion on the continuing emphasis on English education in Pakistan and its links to global ows of capital. 27. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistans report (1995) a woman is raped every three hours in Pakistan: half the victims are minors; onefourth are gang rapes. 28. I am indebted to Dipesh Chakrabarty (1994) for this line of argument. 29. We need to also pay attention to Carol Patemans (1988) reminder that the conception of the modern individual belongs to patriarchal categories of thought.

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Naim, C. M. 1984. Prizewinning Adab: A study of ve Urdu books written in response to the Allahabad government gazette notication. In Moral conduct and authority, edited by Barbara Metcalf. Berkeley: University of California Press. Najmabadi, Afsaneh. 1993. Veiled discourse unveiled body. Feminist Studies 19.3: 487 518. Pakeeza (Lahore). 1995. No. 9, December. Pakistan: World Magazine Trends. 2001 2. pp.com. Pateman, Carol. 1988. The sexual contract. Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford University Press. Petievich, Carla. 1992. Assembly of rivals: Delhi, Lucknow, and the Urdu ghazal. New Delhi: Manohar. Prakash, Gyan. 1999. Another reason. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. Radway, Janice. 1984. Reading the romance. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Rajagopal, Arvind. 2001. Politics after television. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Rouse, Shahnaz. 1996. Gender nationalism(s) and cultural identity: Discursive strategies and exclusivities. In Embodied violence, edited by Kumari Jayawardena and Malathi De Alwis. New Delhi: Kali Press for Women. . 1998. The outsider(s) within: Sovereignty and citizenship in Pakistan. In Appropriating gender, edited by Patricia Jeffery and Amrita Basu. New York: Routledge. Smith, Craig. 2002. Taliban Gone, Sex with Boys Return. New York Times, 2 February. Stallybrass, Peter, and Allon White. 1986. The politics and poetics of transgression. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. United Nations. n.d. Sustainable Development Department, FAO. Asias women in agriculture, environment, and rural production, Pakistan. www.fao.org/sd. Willis, Clair. 1989. Upsetting the public: Carnival, hysteria, and womens texts. In Bakhtin and Cultural Theory, edited by Ken Hirschkop and David Sheperd. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Zaidi, Akbar S. 1999. The new development paradigm. Karachi: Oxford University Press. Zaman, Mohamad Qasim. 2002. The ulama in contemporary Islam: Custodians of change. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

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