Sehr Anokhi - The Liberal Leftist

In one Indian'Pakistani Muslim community that revolved around a mosque in New Jersey, there was a geeky college student who was a liberal leftist. She was into activism and human rights and reading socialist stuff. She wore a ponytail and no make up and her turtlenecks were conservative. Sehr Anokhi was mostly soft spoken and shy.

What happened was one day after Sep 11th, a journalist from a local South Jersey newspaper decided to so an interview of a couple of Muslims. The journalist thought it would make a great article for her newspaper. First she got the mosque s show off. The show off wore high heels, six tons of makeup but because she wore a hijab (scarf) and gave everyone demeaning lectures, the show off felt she was the holiest thing on earth. So the journalist being mean wrote an article making it seem like the show off was the greatest traditional Muslim girl ever and Sehr Anokhi being liberal was awful. The journalist didn't say one nice thing about Sehr Anokhi ' like how kind and nice she was and how she was an activist who cared about human rights. 

All these other girls at the mosque who didn't wear scarves themselves and did bad things when their parents weren't around started treating Sehr Anokhi badly when Sehr Anokhi was actually nicer and kinder than any of them. These girls at the mosque seemed to be in training to become horrible mother in laws when they grew up or at least really mean aunties.

In the middle of all of this there at the mosque was a very kind old Sufi called Pir Baba, a kind old grandma who cooked biryani for the grownups and cookies for the children and a dashing mensan from Lahore who got the best grades at his grad school.

This is the story of Sehr Anokhi and the mosque people.

Sehr Anokhi was at school, standing in the lobby of the campus center talking to a liberal artsy red headed girl. Around them on the walls were bulletin boards with flyers and notices stapled and thumb tacked on to them. The red head was wearing clothes she bought from a thrift store. The red head wore second hand clothes because she was anti corporations. At that moment a girl named Anum walked up. Anum went to the same mosque as Sehr Anokhi, as did a lot of other Indian and Pakistani students on campus. This was because her campus was the local state university and it wasn't that expensive and people's parents wanted to send their kids to a school locally so they
could harass them. 

In India and Pakistan, grownups harassed their in laws but in America within the Indian Pakistani community it was popular for grownups to harass their defenseless nadan (young) children who were dependent on them. They were odd parents, buying their kids over priced clothes and then harassing them too. Oftendevorani-jithanis (sister in laws) would actually gang up to harass their children rather than harassing each other like normal Indian women ought to. 

Anum was a bit chubby and wasn't wearing her usual black clothes that her parents bought her from Express or Macys or where ever they usually wasted their money. Buying DKNY clothes for their daughter was wastage because everything Anum usually wore was black and black made her look darker and yuckier. Anum would have looked beautiful if she wore girly pastel colored clothes. Right now Anum was really something refreshingly different though.

Anum: Sehr can I talk to you?

Sehr Anokhi: Sure.

The red head said something about how she better get to class and left.

Anum: What do you think?

Sehr Anokhi: It's cool.

Anum: I'm wearing it as a hijab (scarf). I have stuff to admit. When I first read your interview about your not wearing a hijab (scarf) because you didn't think people fell over looking at your ponytail, I was upset. It upset me more than the massacre of Afghan children by bombing, pictures of people in Palestine being shot and even Bosnia.

Sehr Anokhi: Talk about your having your priorities straight.

Anum: I was going to come strangle you. So I came but you looked so sweet and I realized I adored you and that I couldn't and I felt bad that I had come to strangle you so I wanted to give you something instead. I didn't have anything on me but my sports bag with a clean pair of socks. So I gave my socks to you.

Sehr Anokhi: I was wondering why you were giving me a pair of socks. But thanks I really like them.

Anum: I wanted to know why I was more touchy about the article than about Afghanistan so I made an appointment with my therapist and talked about your problems.

Sehr Anokhi: My problems? Shouldn't you have talked about your problems?

Anum: Well I thought you were like me. Like we had the same opinions on Islam and stuff.

Sehr Anokhi: And you don't anymore?

Anum: Are you in touch with your subconscious?

Sehr Anokhi: I don't know. Maybe.

Anum: Well, I've wanted to wear a hijab for a long time and tried to but it was too hard and so I asked my therapist (I had to tell her about hijabs and stuff first- it was great dava) how come if you want to do something consciously you still can't. And she said because in your subconscious another message is controlling your actions. She said maybe my subconscious was telling me not to wear one. So I was thinking maybe the subconscious is the devil.

Sehr Anokhi: Um' okay. As far as the subconscious goes I don't understand what's being repressed here. You don't seem to have any Freudian neurosis. 

Anum: What?

Sehr Anokhi: Um' never mind. Well taking an Islamic theology view on the whole thing the idea of jihad bin nafs is really about self-control. Like if you feel like doing something that's bad and you know you ought not to so your internal mental jihadagainst your bad desires I guess could be oddly metaphorical for the super ego versus id thing.

Anum: What?

Sehr Anokhi: Never mind. Well I really like your clothes though. 

Anum: I m taking it a few steps at a time. I wore these so my subconscious doesn't think I'm wearing a hijab and abaya when I really am. The first day I wore gloves and a muffler around my neck. When I thought my subconscious wasn't looking I'd tip toe to the mirror and arrange my muffler around my head like a scarf. Some times it would slip off. And I had to do it again. Of course everyone was looking at me when I was tiptoeing up to the mirror and running back but I
decided to be brave and not care. Besides I thought it was great dava.

Mariam walks into the campus center. She stands stunned for a second looking at Anum and walks up to Sehr Anokhi. 

Mariam: Sehr, can I talk to you for a second. Sorry Anum, it's private.

Sehr Anokhi: Sure.

They walk a bit far away.

Mariam: Sehr, what have you done to Anum? Why is she wearing an over sized Harry Potter hat and a trench coat with pillow covers hung on to the bottom with safety pins.

Sehr Anokhi: Well she needed a big hat because she has a lot of hair. And the trench coat with the pillowcases is perfectly covering.

Mariam: What?

Sehr Anokhi: I guess she wants to wear a hijab (scarf) and abaya (coat) but she doesn't have one so that's why she is wearing a wizard's hat and a trench coat with pillow cases attached to the bottom. And besides I thought technically you could wear whatever you want just as long as it's covering. 

Mariam: Huh'? Oh! You mean she doesn't have a proper abaya and hijab at home, poor thing. She's so brave. I'll buy her one today and give it to her tomorrow. Something in light colors like your turtleneck is. I think light colors are supposed to symbolize goodness and innocence and of course it wouldn't attract attention as much as felt with stars and moons. Lets walk back to her.

They walk back.

Mariam: I totally admire you, Anum. 

Anum: Really, me? Oh thanks!

Mariam: I'm going to bring a present for you tomorrow.

Well I've been at the panel of the mosque people and they had asked for your views on Islam Sehr and you have submitted 18 different pages with 18 different views-one on each page. And they were wondering what was going on. Which one really is your view? Anyway this guy from Lahore who has a very high IQ and is a Physics grad student ' we call him the mensan ' walked in. The question was put to him about which view probably really is Sehr's and he said, 'She is probably saying everything is relative.'

But still people were confused then this sweet old round lady called Begum Khanum whom everyone loves because she makes all the children chocolate chip cookies at the mosque said oh Sehr is just young, doesn't know better, leave it at that. And the head of the mosque panel said okay.

Then the mosque panel had an argument about how to arrange the seats for the next day. Some wanted a vertical arrangement of seats. Some wanted a horizontal arrangement of seats. Some wanted cool geometric shapes. Finally the head said lets do what's easiest, comfortable and practical.

A Sufi gentleman who is the mensan's best friend said we should make the children make Valentines Day cards for Allah so that they learn how to love Allah. But other people said that's a dumb idea ' we shouldn't let children adopt kafirrituals. Besides it would waste cards.

So well that's the latest. I better get going. Khuda Hafiz (bye) 

Sehr. Khuda hafiz (bye) Anum.

Anum: I wonder what the present will be that Mariam said she'd get me?

Sehr Anokhi: It's a surprise.

Anum: You know what my dream is- to be able to wear a normal hijab and abayawithout my subconscious stopping me. What's your dream Sehr?

Sehr Anokhi: To have a turtle. For some odd reason it's illegal to sell turtles in New Jersey and I love turtles. If I had a turtle would name him Wilbert. Right now we have a snail, four fish and two cats.

Two girls walk in. One is in a hijab and abaya.

Anum: Oh my God. It's that girl I totally look up to. I've talked to her. She's so sweet. Let's listen in on their conversation.

Sehr Anokhi: Let's not eavesdrop.

Anum: Noooo'.

Sehr Anokhi: What?

Anum: Did you hear that? I can't believe it! The other girl asked if she had the whole Quran memorized and she said no. She didn't think she needed to. I can't believe it. She doesn't have the Quran memorized.

Sehr Anokhi: Well neither do you.

Anum: Yeah but still. I can't believe she said that. I want to strangle her. She is such an evil atheist. And I thought she was like me.

Sehr Anokhi: She is like you. Nether of you have the Quran memorized.

Anum: No but it's different. I want to but it's too hard. 

Sehr Anokhi: Okay whatever. You could do it stages if you really want to. Pretend it's a song or something. Anyway I need to go to an NJPIRG meeting. I'm late as usual. See you later. Shuba khair. (Bye).

The next week Sehr Anokhi was sitting at a table with Anum doing homework. Sher Anokhi was writing a paper on Marx. Anum was wearing a pretty silk scarf and a sophisticated abaya from Egypt that looked like a long jacket. The light colored fabric made her look pretty.

Anum: I have Alf-Lam-meem- the first para of the Quran memorized.

Sehr Anokhi: I have the Sponge Bob Square Pants song memorized. And Hey Jude.

Anum: Ritak Roshan is co cute. He looked so handsome in that movie.

Sehr Anokhi: But he couldn't possibly be as handsome as Ralph Nader. His intelligence is so dreamy.

Anum: What? 

Sehr Anokhi: Um' never mind.

Mariam walks in. 

Anum: Thank you so much for giving these clothes to me.

Mariam: Oh I'm just happy that you like them. Guess what? I just came back from the panel. The
panel said it's not possible that Sehr has 18 different views at the same time. The mensan said
sometimes he had 29 different views on things. A woman called Kurni Auntie said Sehr's view must be the one in the paper. The mensan said but that would be only one-eighteenth of her views. The head said all this is so strange. I've never heard of such things before.

The Sufi said well Allah's universe has myriads of details to it. Why Allah himself has 99 names- each name a different characteristic the Sufi said. The mensan said lets find the statistical median of her views and they'll put that in the records as Sehr's view. That head was like 'what?' The mensan said the one that is in the middle. So they took out no. 9 and it said 'Sometimes you can be into Islam because it's interesting but sometimes you can be into other things that have to do with regional cultures and social movements because they can be interesting too.' So that was put in as your official view.

Anyway people started looking through the different views and there were 17 people there and they felt one of the 17 pages of views confirmed their views on things so they wanted to keep the page that had a view like theirs on it.

Then an argument started between the one who took page/view no 1 and the one who took page/view no 18. The lady with view number one started yelling ayatsand hadiths and the man with view no 18 started yelling poetry in Urdu.

The woman yelled 'Maudoodi is right because he studied and knew stuff.' The man yelled Maudoodi was against the creation of Pakistan. If we had listened to them, there would be no Pakistan. If mullahs were listened to, there would be no Ghalib, no Faiz Ahmed Faiz and they criticized Alama Iqbal's Shikva and Javabay Shikva

The head said 'Please, please stop yelling both of you- Muslim are not supposed to fight.' The head had view number five.

The person with view number two would yell 'Takbir' after the woman would yell her view and the person with view 17 would yell vah vah when the man with view number 18 yelled some poetry in Urdu. Well the people asked the mensan about what should be done to make the panel stop arguing and he said something about Star Trek, the prime directive, and non-interference and said something about a great opportunity to observe interesting conflict theory in action. The mensan's father was really annoyed at him and said I spent all this money so you can have a good education and you can t come up with anything useful.

The mensan's dad had view no 14.

Then a little kid walked in and said 'mom, dad, I'm hungry, I want food from Taco bell.'

Immediately the woman with view no 1 and the man with view no 18 stopped arguing and became all happy and left with their son. Apparently the two who had been arguing were husband and wife.

The mensan said, 'That was interesting.' The Sufi said, 'I always liked Urdu poetry.' And the guy with view number three said he learnt a lot about Islam by the informative stuff the lady had been yelling. The head of the panel was scratching his head.

Well the whole article issue is resolved. But I would recommend not coming to the mosque for a while Sehr because Kurni Auntie like usual wants to chase you around with her 'nussehat' (lectures). Kurni Auntie crushes the self-esteem of all the children at the mosque. Even her husband is scared of her. Well see you everyone. Khuda hafiz (bye).

Sehr Anokhi: Bye.

Anum: Khuda hafiz (bye). 


More by :  Sarah Khan

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