The End of Geography
‘Remember that you and I made this journey and went together to a place where there was nowhere left to go.’
– Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake
The idea of a woman’s body in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is mired in a panoply of schizophrenic reactions. The female body is treated like an entity that is often negated or treated with a sense of horror, as it is does not exist in the realm of purity; rather, it is shrouded in unwarranted notions of taboo. In this respect, it is often exalted to a magnitude of ideas alone, magnified as a source of yielding and then torn to shreds by desire that emanates from a sense of insecurity. It is then cloaked in honour, shame, propriety and religion; but stripped naked, it serves as one of the most important currencies of patriarchal economics. The body is controlled and monitored, like the god of small things that men repeatedly worship. At the same time, deafeningly loud voices will warn of its impurity, its ability to lead astray. The cycle of reproduction, and the way ‘she’ must produce for her companion at times is comparable to the stock market, contingent on the economy of scales where people need to invest in order to prosper. To make it simple for all men to understand and follow, templates are constructed around the persona of womanhood.
Hence, a woman is always labeled as a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother. Defined and kept by the prefix that precedes her name, her identity is marked by the name of the man that follows hers. If she fails to produce she is often considered illegitimate, without a claim to her own body.
My photographic work is a personal statement. I started off in my relationship just fine, until the scrap of paper I signed would (officially) allow the man I married access to my body. The prefix to my name also changed. My father handed over what was allegedly his– me – to another as the god of small things watched and blessed my impurity, my ability to reproduce and sustain the economics of this transaction. Except, life had other plans for me, and accordingly, the transaction’s value changed its nature in drastic forms when my husband refused his god given right! He told me he was gay. I didn’t realize the control I had always had on what was mine to begin with.
The 7 years of my being with him marked the coordinates of the 7 cities I lived in as my journey began. I negated my body at first until, piece by piece, the idea of my identity as a woman took a backseat; to myself, I became someone without gender, just a person in search of ‘itself’. As I stripped naked for the image, I threw out the outer skin that that was always identified as impure, the shame that had cloaked the child who was raped, the woman who shared a bed empty of desire, the wife who never evolved into a mother.
Frame by frame, as I reached the end of the geography of my journey, there was a pristine white space waiting for me. My body was now mine and all the marks upon it that were perhaps ugly to others, were beautiful to me. Eventually, when the stories on my skin began again, I lost my ability to reproduce. The immense sense of loss contained however, a grain of relief, and I reclaimed all of myself. As a woman, I have to begin at the end because the coordinates of beginnings and endings overlap in my life, but on His map, it’s probably all the same place.
From the series The End of Geography, Karachi, 2010