The Mule, the Spider & the Ostrich

Peaceful coexistence

Peaceful coexistence (Image created using

My neighbour is a prosperous man residing in a posh locality, who will be condemned to hell, if he shaves his beard. He wears a fine cotton shalwar[1], starched and ironed to perfection, that’s not quite long enough to go past his ankles. His head is usually shaved and covered by a white taqiyah[2]. He’s known to donate generously to the local mosque that amongst other things, provides boarding, lodging and religious guidance to impressionable minds that have been practically abandoned by their families, for lack of means.  He commits his personal time to monthly and annual tableegh & dawah visits (Muslim missionary work) to slums and remote areas where they teach the residents religious best-practices.

His character is beyond reproach. And, his lifestyle is amazing. When others around him are burning precious diesel or gas, in-house, during an electricity outage, he seems to be enjoying a backup source of electricity straight from another electric pole that’s not facing the outage. His ecological footprint is all over the street and can be discovered in your trashcan or found sneakily deposited next to your boundary wall. We are not quite sure about what he does for a living. He seasonally acts as a stockist (or a hoarder of sorts, if I may) believing that one cannot deprive others of the value they should rightfully receive, by engaging in unfair trade practices and market manipulation. The only objectionable sources of income, in his opinion, are banking and prostitution. The latter may be permitted under certain conditions. As he lectures you on the “exploitative” nature of banking, he yells a profanity at an under-nourished, under-age Pathan servant who has been left in their service by folks living somewhere in the north of Pakistan. Once an year, an adult from the child’s family turns up to collect the annual wages for his labour and to confirm that he’s still alive.

This respectable citizen is in line with the wealthier clerics in our country, according to whom, there is no provision of taxes in an Islamic administrative system and hence a Muslim need not worry about tax evasion. Breaking the law of the land, or keeping tax money out of the government treasury (however corrupt) that may, just may, go towards infrastructure, education, healthcare, sanitation or otherwise improving conditions for the less privileged doesn’t figure into the elusive list of haraams[3] or makrooh[4]. Reportedly, eating shrimp ranks high on this list.

He’s the mule, in horse’s skin.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Wifey Dear, is an emancipated woman in her late thirties, who speaks English, drives a Camry, and looks at you from behind a veil that even covers her eyes (drivers, beware!). Her swarovsky-encrusted abaya[5] is a symbol of modesty and a blessing for the average Pakistani man, who would definitely drool at the 200-lbs beauty, should she abandon it in favour of a loose-fitting shalwar kameez.  She has produced five sons so far in the way of furthering the Ummah, all the while believing that love for and pride in one’s offspring is a worldly trial. Hence, she has dissociated herself from many of her parental responsibilities, presumably to nip all sources of parental pride in the bud. Her time’s better spent at a ladies-only religious learning club, that excels in displacing common-sense or research-based priorities from your everyday life. This month, for instance, they spent a considerable time figuring out the scoring system for rewards and penalties associated with drinking water in various positions such as standing up and sitting down, while no word of condemnation was spoken for the indiscriminate killings of members of a minority community that resides in the same city. To give them due credit, this group knows the top five million ways to secure heaven, each carefully selected so as to require them to be less useful and more disruptive to society. Her advancements at learning can be measured by the number of Arabic words she can smack into a conversation in place of perfectly reasonable Urdu words.

She’s a spider who has long stopped thinking for herself and is now caught in a delusional world spun by her religious patriarchs, forever clinging to it and pretending to be the queen of her territory. She’s as unsure of her strength, courage and intellect as she is ashamed of her body (this being an instrument of the devil meant to lure the men). She is a woman who has sentenced herself in the process of deliverance.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

A few miles away, in the worker’s colony where my housekeeper lives, life’s a bit more forbidding. This morning, her sister-in-law was beaten up ruthlessly by her spouse because she spent his heroin money on their child’s school fee. The night before, a teen was tortured to death because he dared to exchange hot words with the local influential figure. A middle-aged woman in the same colony is destined to die of breast cancer because her family is against medical treatment and is rather ashamed that she could sprout such a dishonourable tumour. The child of a daily-wage worker hasn’t eaten in 18 hours, because his father couldn’t find public transport (!) to reach the construction site where he works as a mason.

I start to shake my head in disbelief and catch a glimpse of my $200 haircut in the mirror to the right – an amount that can feed a family of five for a month (yes, food is still cheap here). My MacBook is worth at least 16 years of basic education in Pakistan for a child. I can read, write, think and speak on a hundred causes meriting advocacy.

I shut my eyes and when I open them again, the blur is gone. I am, after all, the callous ostrich.

[1] Loose-fitting Pakistani trousers

[2] A rounded cap worn by Muslim men

[3] Prohibited

[4] Permissible but disliked

[5] Cloak


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