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290-winter-snowSeema looked out. Everything was covered in snow, as far as she could see. “It looks like a desert, a snow desert,” she said to herself. “Love or no love, I am not going out in this weather.” She did not go to meet Fraz. But it was not just because of snow. Her parents stopped her too, as we later learned. We were meeting again at the tavern after our shisha-bar asked “the uncle generation” to go somewhere else. The change of venue, however, did not affect our group, an informal gathering of people who had nothing in common except the desire to get together and talk about ‘home.’ Seema’s father is one of those who believe that a daughter should sit quietly at home until the father finds a “suitable boy” for her. She disagrees and whenever he gets upset, she politely reminds him that she is “a born American” and knows her rights. Then there is Mike, who was Maqsood back home. “My daughter? Yes, she must have a boyfriend too but I never bothered to ask. It is very personal,” he says. Foroud, the Iranian, is popular among both the first and second generations. The first generation often sought his help to talk to their daughters or sons who they thought were going astray. Bob D’Souza is a Goan Christian from Karachi. Manohar is an Indian whom the group calls Maharaja Ashoka because of his desire to revive Ashoka’s kingdom. And his friend Mian Saheb wants to revive an entire empire, the Muslim empire. And there is Jasmine, the only female member of the group. She is not a regular participant but comes whenever she can. We learned about Seema and Fraz when her father, Khalid, asked Foroud to talk to her. “Come now,” he said to him one evening. “Not now,” said Foroud, “I will come after the weekend.” When I asked why he didn’t go with Khalid, he said: “The problem is with Khalid, not Seema. I want to give him some time to cool off before we confront Seema.” “And why is the father a problem?” I asked. “He should have known that coming to America is not like going to Dubai. You never return home from America. The children who are born and brought up here are Americans. And it is normal for American kids to date,” he said. “Besides, she is 20 now. How can the father stop her?” Foroud asked. I had no answer. Later in the evening, Khalid spoke to Jasmine and also asked her to talk to his daughter. She flatly refused. “I am not the right person because I believe she has every right to do whatever she doing,” she said. When we met at the tavern, she asked me to write about Seema. “What is there to write about? It is such a common story,” I said. “Then write about me,” she said. “If you write, I will become a story and someone will find something useful in this story,” she said. “What’s useful in your story?” I asked. “I want people to discover real love, not just live with each other because they get used to living together,” she said. “Your story can break up marriages,” I joked. “Rubbish, I am not against marriage or family. I want them to discover real love and enjoy living with each other. But they are afraid to do so,” she said. “And in your story, do not call me Jasmine. Call me Zubaida. I love this name. It reminds me of the old Baghdad and of the Thousand and One Nights,” she said. “So you want me to write a love story from Alif Laila?” I asked. “No, no, I left all that behind when I left my home town,” she said. “What I have now is a headlong struggle.” She paused and then added, “Sometimes I wish I was born in a remote village in Pakistan and was not exposed to all this. Ignorance indeed is bliss.” “This is very atypical of you,” said Bob D’Souza. “We thought you were a rebel.” “Rebel, my foot,” said Jasmine. “You guys think I am weird but do not have the courage to say so.” Let me first explain why Northern Virginia’s Desi community – which includes Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis, Afghans and their Somalians, Arabs and Iranian friends – thinks Jasmine is a rebel. Jasmine is a Muslim from a small town in Pakistan and runs a bar with a large dancing floor. Her waitresses are not shy of showing their cleavages. “You guys have fixed ideas about what a woman should or should not do. And you do not know how to relate to a woman who is different,” said Jasmine. Then she pointed at a nearby Desi eatery and said: “See that woman serving food there? All of you will be happy if I were like her, serving you guys, cleaning your tables and was paid less than the minimum wage.” She added: “I know how poor women like her also have to fight back people like you who never tire of trying to take her to bed.” There was complete silence. Then I spoke: “So what do you want me to write about you?” “I know what you want to write about me,” she said. “How I left two husbands and was living with the third. How I called the police to kick out my first husband who was also my cousin, right?” Now I was quiet too. So she spoke again. “You will not say how this cousin of mine was two-timing me and how the second husband married me just to get his green card,” she said. “One day, I caught him too with a 20-dollar prostitute.” “What you did was right,” said Mian Saheb, “you should have kicked them out but why did you open this bar?” “As if you do not know,” said Jasmine. “I was young and good looking but I had no experience. So, many in this noble community of the Desis tried to take advantage of me.” Then she explained how with the help of an American woman activist, who was also a lawyer, she forced her second husband to give her some money. The second husband, she said, was a physician and had married her to come to America and make money. “As soon as he setup his practice, he wanted to go home and bring a virgin from there,” she said. “He was very stingy and it was not easy to get money from him. But that woman angel, the American lawyer, she was very good. She gave him two options: Pay or get deported. He paid.” Jasmine had her own money too, more than what she got from the husband. She was a trained accountant and had been working since she was 18. She also inherited a townhouse from her father and used it to borrow money from the bank. “With all that money, you could have done anything. Why a bar?” Mian Saheb persisted. “Don’t you fear me? Most of the Desis do,” she said. “I do too but you are in a good mood today,” replied Mian Saheb. She laughed and said, “OK, let me explain. I tried other businesses too, with Desis. But they cheated me. I am an accountant, so I discovered their fraud.” Tired of Desis, Jasmine went to a women support group who told her about this bar. The owner was 82 and wanted to retire. “I checked it. Worked there for a month and discovered that it was doing good business. So I decided to buy it,” she said. “The old man was nice but his wife was nicer and she persuaded him to train me, which he did.” Because of this bar, she was now in a position to help others rather than seeking their help. Recently, she also gave some money to the local mosque for renovation. “Maulana Saheb knew me and he still accepted the money, so I guess it is kosher,” she said. Jasmine is very kind to her staff, almost all of whom are women. She is also strict in her own way. “I make it very clear when I hire someone that this is a bar, not a dating service. They are waitresses, not call girls. And so far no one has disappointed me,” she said. “Now, will you write my story?” she asked. “Story, I don’t know but I will reproduce your conversation,” I said. And here is a question Jasmine wanted me to ask: Did you find anything useful in this story?  
80x80-Anwar-IqbalThe author is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.

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Anwar Iqbal is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.

Comments (42) Closed

Imran Dec 01, 2012 02:37pm
All of the above issues.
Raj Dec 03, 2012 04:15pm
What is wrong in importing foreigh culture in Pakistan ??? Atleast people may become more civilized then what are they today. Dec 03, 2012 02:49pm
all donations to religious organizations are based on gree or fear...reserarch to the roots.
Hassan Dec 03, 2012 02:47am
Her action of giving money for the mosque renovation appears to me as a guilt. By doing so she may like to believe the money she is earning is legitimate. Caring about the mosque will do no good. Caring about what is right or wrong will make her successful in this life and hereafter.
shazia Dec 03, 2012 11:38am
well said and full of truth said:).
Mahmood Sadiq Dec 04, 2012 02:04am
Useful? Yes, every bit of it!
Hassan Dec 03, 2012 04:12pm
Completely agree!
Rasheed Dec 02, 2012 07:57am
She is indeed braver woman who was found to be above-board about her views, ideas that she had inside her heart and mind..........
aisha Dec 01, 2012 02:56pm
A very badly written peice, only got through the first few paragraphs and gave up.
caramelizedonion Dec 03, 2012 05:05am
Not only Americans, I know plenty of noble Pakistanis in Australia who do the same to women of their and other muslim communities. Thei nobleity knows no bounds, as no number of marriages can allevaite their sense of inferiority. To the authors question, the conversation was extremely good and thanks for sharing.
Mansoor Dec 03, 2012 04:47am
This is a good topic facing most expatriate with grown up children, but it appears that fiction and non fiction are intermingled in this story.
raika45 Dec 01, 2012 12:18pm
I find this a pretty confusing story.The writer has something up his mind and yet is sort of tangled up as to how to portray his thoughts.Is it about dating,feminine freedom or the delima of of Asian parents settled in America regarding their children?
Bakhtawer Bilal Dec 03, 2012 12:31am
what about the tax Govt of Pakistan is taking on the selling of alcohol in Pakistan.
ficttious Dec 01, 2012 12:55pm
Good one.
AK Dec 02, 2012 11:33am
So... are all desis in America essentially cheats and chauvinists who won't help a single woman of their community but try to take advantage of her?
talha Dec 03, 2012 02:01am
This story is from a ditch in America. You will find just as pious, Allah fearing people here as you will in any other part of the world. That is why I am forced to say that this story is from a ditch.
irfan Dec 03, 2012 11:52am
but the objector, I think also had raised the critical point. If something is going wrong due to cultural difference, its does not mean that you can make the forbidden things permissible especially if that links with the fundamentals of Islam. The objector simply asked for the hypocrisy of the people, and it stands for all Muslims not only in West. Both religious and liberal fellows actually own this character. So don't simply just finger on the immigrant generation and defend the wrong doings of the westernize one. If some one finds religious obligations as redundant, why not he/she should simply quit the religion and then follow what ever they want. In keeping both things they are polluting the real face of the religion. What a pity, you wanna to be feed up by your elder but not ready to bear their ways. Off course like other readers I also of the view that every individual would be responsible for their acts but the fact is if someone's act will have wrong impact on the society then its better to avoid their publicity. Its the fact every writer writes according to his taste, and its always hard to get writers as neutral, who could narrate views of both sides. Here, the most readers are locally based so what the purpose of this writing? The writer should publish this sort of writing in the land where the problem is existing. The purpose of writing this in Pakistan is nothing other than to import and support the foreigner culture.
Iftikhar Siddique Dec 02, 2012 12:20pm
What seems like a yarn within many yarns is not a atypical story. Hardly any story, well told, is linear. Fact or fiction, the story touches upon many seemingly unrelated issues- from the dating by one's daughters- a taboo in the Pakistani culture to fraudulent marriages to a Pakistani woman owning a liquor servicing bar- the storyteller weaves the issues into a mosaic, painting a picture in broad strokes, which highlights the various issues faced by Pakistani diaspora in the U.S.. The term ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) is a derogatory term, used by some folks back home to contemptuously describe the second generation (sometimes even the first- illogically) of the Pakistanis living in the U.S., without an understanding of the conflict that they are caught in between two very different cultures; driven by contrary objectives and the effect it has on the immigrants and their offsprings. A well told and thought provoking story by Anwar Iqbal.
abbastoronto Dec 01, 2012 02:19pm
The Islam of today is anti-Mohammedan, anti-Quranic, very different from Islam practiced by our Prophet and stated in the Quran. Our Prophet’s marriage was a love marriage. Ummul Momineen Khadija fell head over heels in love with our Prophet. When she sent him on a business mission to Damascus she ordered one of her servants to take note of everything he did, and report back to her. What she heard back only increased her love for him. Then she proposed to him, reportedly against the wishes of her father who was not a Muslim. The Sunnah was set. Our Prophet proposed to no free woman in his life - only the women or their fathers proposed to him. Even today, in Islamic Nikah ceremony of EVERY Sect, it is the woman or her wakeel proposes, and the man or his wakeel accepts – the ijab and qabool. But ceremony aside, in reality, the practice has become un-Islamic. The men or their sides sends the “rishta”. Men do not have Islamic right to propose, only the women do who also prepare the Contract setting any condition they want. Men can not put their conditions. Whereas woman have primacy in marriage, men have primacy in divorce. Only they can break the contract without Court’s involvement. Pakistan’s greats – Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan, Faiz – were all pursued by beautiful non-Muslim women who converted to Islam – Rutti, Sheila, Elys to Maryam, Raana, and Elys. In Jinnah’s case her rich father opposed the matter. Pakistani fathers today who oppose their daughters finding their mate are no different than the non-Muslim fathers of Khadija, and Rutti.
abbastoronto Dec 01, 2012 02:04pm
One should not fact with fiction. The message gets lost.
Mohammed Ramzan Dec 01, 2012 02:49pm
i find this story very confusing, whether you are desi or valaity it is haram for a muslim to earn from selling alcohol and dancing. I would like to ask the readers, would it be allowed for a woman or a man to take part in any type of haram(un-lawful) earnings. If you give part of that money to a Mosque,Gurudawara, Mandir, Church or a Synagogue. Would that make it halal (lawful). I wonder if that dodgie Imam was valaity or desi. Please don't try to justify haram act of being halal.
Sultan Mehmood Dec 01, 2012 02:58pm
Notice how every American in the story is an angel, and desi a fraud? God help our inferiority complex!
Anoosh Khan Dec 01, 2012 03:11pm
Yes, I did. Never judge a book by its cover.
abbastoronto Dec 02, 2012 06:56pm
When you are sinning, Allah is not holding your hand to prevent it. A Muslim may steal, rob, commit adultery, murder, drink alcohol, make body naked. What Islam says clearly that yes, Allah has made you free to do anything, but if you do so, be prepared for the dire consequences. There will be reckoning one day, sooner than you think.
Raj Dec 02, 2012 04:21pm
Then more then 50 % muslim can't call themselves Muslim even in Pakistan forget about the world !!!! Writer had just narrated the struggle common people has to face to earn their bread and butter keeping their religious faith aside. People has to choose between their existence and religious belief, and most of the time struggle for existence win the race.
abbastoronto Dec 02, 2012 06:23pm
You are trying a bit too hard.
USA Dec 01, 2012 11:56pm
Terrible writing. Couldnt follow the story in the writing.
Faraz Husain Dec 03, 2012 06:58am
Anwar sahab, I marvel your attribute of telling stories. Its like a cool breeze from the west every time I read your story.
Faisal bin bashir Dec 02, 2012 03:27pm
Is in english, ask the writer for a urdu version..thats why u dont understand babu ji
miri Dec 02, 2012 05:51pm
One should not have reality t.v. as the standard for literature.
miri Dec 02, 2012 05:49pm
Please see my comment, above, to "USA."
miri Dec 02, 2012 05:47pm
A good writer provokes thinking in his readership; s/he does not dictate thought. I smile at the thought of alcohol being "head of all evils," when I consider that Socrates claimed not to trust anyone who didn't drink. This is not an attack on the tenets of Islam, just an interesting thought, as alcohol loosens the frontal lobes -- that portion of the brain that modulates behavior -- and true character can be seen in a drunk person (unfortunately).
Rao GR Dec 02, 2012 05:26pm
Kudos Anwarsab! The fact that you have created a space in which such ideas could be shared and then shared them, is itself a revolution in the community which reads this! A year ago, this would not have been published!
Shahid Mashedy Dec 01, 2012 06:08pm
Brave women, when we have a small percent of women of her strength we will be a much better country with honest people with right values. Thank you for sharing her story.
Yousuf Dec 01, 2012 09:32pm
Being from a Muslim family and selling alcohol (I am assuming bars sell alcohol) don't go well together (it does not matter if the seller is male or female). Its entirely upto one's self to be a Muslim or to be a non-Muslim. You are free to choose your religion. However if you want to be called a Muslim then follow the rules of it. And Islam prohibits alcohol strictly. Alcohol is said to be head of all evils. Writer should be careful of how his writings could affect the society's thinking.
Samir Gupta Dec 01, 2012 05:59pm
It is about Jasmine and her attainment of love. Everything else you mentioned are background themes. Anwar, please tell Jasmine that her love radiated over the internet through your story and touched me. Because of deep love, one is courageous - LaoTzu
Sattar- Edmonton Dec 02, 2012 03:54pm
its all the above...
miri Dec 02, 2012 05:34pm
It is quite possible, but if so, it is because they are of the male gender, not because they are "desis."
Ayesha Chowdhry Dec 02, 2012 09:41am
Yes: We dont know what others' struggles are. Dont judge them, just look for the good in them, and we will end up being more tolerant than we currently are. Also: consider and accept the long term impact of your actions.
Feroz Dec 02, 2012 06:07am
Jasmine is a woman in control of her own life, which seems non controversial to me. Frankly how many women are in control of their own lives like Jasmine, they have been forced to take the support of men like crutches. Next time lets go for a drink to Jasmine's bar and raise a toast to her feisty spirit.
Sue Thompson Dec 01, 2012 01:13pm
Such a provocative story! This is your gift Anwar. The question begets many questions but questions come from the mind. Jasmine/ Zubaida is strong & different but not so unusual in America to find women who go beyond the pains & traditions of the past to forge new lives. Indeed coming to America is not like going to Dubai for anyone. Our culture is a melting pot & grows with each new person who comes. Each new experience changes the flavor. The setting is good, the Tavern is always familiar as you have introduced it many times in your work. One day I hope to visit & meet Jasmine/ Zubaida & drink chai with you all. The real question is not what we think, not of the mind but of the heart we should ask ourselves: can we still love someone especially our children when they do not agree with our ideas. These are serious questions not matter the culture, even for Americans. Aren't we supposed to love & respect everyone, even our adult children, when we do not agree with their ways? Do we let our mind rule or our heart rule when it comes to those we love? That is the question. The story makes me wonder what is most important. Thank you for sharing Anwar!
Vijay Dec 01, 2012 04:08pm
It is all of the above, my friend. Life is not just black and white; it has all shades of grey mixed in.