“You would think a Sunni male from Punjab would be allowed to enter an air-conditioned mall in Islamabad without having to pay Rs100, argues Mehboob, who was recently asked by Islamabad’s most famous mall to pay money before being able to enter with his friends. ‘This isn’t the type of country I want to live in. I mean it’s not like we’re turning our Facebook profile pictures rainbow and asking for the right to get married. We simply want the same rights burger boys have — to hang around in malls for hours, window shopping for better halves.
“I mean all the liberal fascists on my Facebook wall are like you’re too male, Sunni and Punjabi to claim discrimination. No international newspaper will pick this news up, they tell me. I ask you: isn’t this discrimination too? Just because we wear impossibly tight jeans doesn’t mean we can’t feel things. We have a heart too. What’s the point of building the metro if we can’t go to the mall in Islamabad? I mean the government managed to get the dharna to finish too. So it’s not like we have any other form of entertainment in Islamabad. In fact, I hear that’s why the third umpire never raised their finger. Not enough Pindi boys showed up to the party every night. It’s a pity the metro wasn’t built before the dharna. It could have actually changed the course of Pakistan’s history.
“So after being disappointed by the liberals, I talked to some religious friends on Facebook and they were all like unless someone stops you from praying or fasting in the mall, there’s not much we can do to help. ‘Why don’t you go to the nearest mosque for air-conditioned taraweeh?,’ they proposed gently. ‘It’s the new in thing this Ramazan and you don’t have to pay anything to enter because we’re all equal in the eyes of God, as long as you’re from my sect.’ But I just don’t get these guys. Since when did we start respecting boundaries between religion and the law of the mall? Everyone knows what happens at the mall never stays at the mall.
“The only people who understood our problem were the communists. But when I found out I have more friends on Facebook than the communist party has members in Pakistan, I was like what’s the point of this? Besides, there’s some unwritten rule about graduating from a university in London to qualify as a credible leftist in Pakistan today. And if you think we have too many religious sects in Pakistan, wait till you go party shopping on the left. It’s a good thing Marx didn’t predict how many factions the left would split into after his death. Anyhow, I digress. We Pindi boys take a while to get to the point.
“So my cousin Saad from Nazimabad in Karachi is coming over to Pindi next week and he’s going to be like we have sea-view and the beach in Karachi. What do you have in Pindi? I was planning to take him to the mall in Islamabad. I mean where else can I take him. The graveyard where good policies come to die? He probably won’t even get that joke. And I hate explaining my jokes to people. I mean if you can’t get satire, you shouldn’t be allowed into a mall anyways. Not even on Tariq Road.
“So here’s the funny thing. We Pindi boys took to social media and instead of exploiting Pakistan’s liberal, religious or class divisions against each other, we appealed to Pakistan’s common sense and built alliances across social fault lines. It turns out that Pakistan’s common sense can actually translate into action, unlike Pakistan’s outrage industry with its rent-a-controversy 24-hour news cycle. The mall will take action and stop discriminating against us by restoring a free entry for all. This isn’t just a victory for Pindi boys. This is a victory for all of us. Now Saad and I can go back to doing what we love most: photo bombing a burger girl’s selfie, from a reasonable distance, while pretending to look elsewhere. I will spend the whole night hoping she will think about me when she sees the picture. For her, I will be the same as I was in the mall: invisible.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 9th, 2015.
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