Do We Not Bleed (Book Review) by Mehr Tarar
Book Name: Do We Not Bleed
Author: Mehr Tarar
Blurb: Do We Not Bleed? Reflections of a 21st-Century Pakistani is a passionate, illuminating book about contemporary Pakistan. Comprising original profiles of diverse Pakistanis—some of whom are internationally feted and many others who are relatively unknown—as well as essays that examine the major fault lines in Pakistani society, the book offers the reader an insider’s perspective on the state of affairs in the country today.
The book is divided into five thematic sections, each corresponding to a subject that the author feels strongly about. ‘Religious Persecution and Other Discontents’ delves into the killings and oppression generated by religious discord that are now a routine feature of life in Pakistan. In this section we find stories of people like Ambreen, the girl who dared to take on the patriarchy and repressive customs and was burned to death for her defiance and Qandeel Baloch, the self-proclaimed selfie queen, who was killed by her own brother, for daring to flaunt her sexuality and contempt for the hypocrisy that permeated the society she was part of; ‘The Pakistan You Do Not Know’ shows us little known aspects of everyday life in Pakistan; ‘Remarkable Pakistanis’ tells the story of, among others, Muniba Mazari, a quadriplegic whose inspiring story proves the resilience of the human mind and spirit and Shazia Mushtaq, the selfless educator of Yahounabad;‘Family and Friends’ contains personal narratives about members of the author’s immediate circle; and ‘The India Connection’ crosses the border to profile aspects of India that the author cherishes, including Delhi and Amitabh Bachchan.
Written in her inimitable style, Mehr Tarar’s first book is a remarkably honest account of her beloved country.
Review: Mehr Tarar’s book Do We Not Bleed is about life in contemporary Pakistan and the many challenges faced by a flawed country that has sadly immersed so deeply in fanaticism and religious identity that it has become its most defining feature.
Tarar writes about issues that took center stage and anybody who follows international news must have heard about these cases before. She goes a bit deep and provides some snippets of what life is like for a woman in patriarchal Pakistan. The story of Ambreen, a girl who is burnt to death simply for refusing to be meek and follow traditions makes for a heart-wrenching read. She also writes about Qandeel Baloch, the online sensation who managed to achieve cult status briefly before being murdered by her own brother.
To the outside world, not familiar with Pakistan, it must come as a surprise that girls can be killed for trivial reasons. Qandeel apart from her shenanigans was also an ordinary Pakistani citizen but it’s unlikely that she will get any justice for justice is also reserved for males in a male-dominated society.
“His daughter, who was unlike anyone in his family, had ensured that her younger sister was married off with jehaiz (dowry). His daughter, who did what sons in patriarchal setups do, bought a house for her family. His daughter, who worked like a woman but acted ‘like a man’. His daughter, who arranged for her brother- her would be murderer- to have his own business, gave him money to set up a shop, and looked for a suitable girl from the neighbourhood for his marriage.”
It is a bit surprising that Tarar has written on topics which the outside world already knows about. Enough reporting and news have been dedicated to all these cases and as a Pakistani citizen, she could have instead focussed on unknown faces, stories that have not been told yet and this is perhaps the weakness of this book. Obviously, that would have called for a lot more research and this book looks like it’s been written after second-hand research. Except for Ambreen’s case, no other case is deliberated upon in detail.
Mahnoor Khan’s story is a tale that perhaps most women in the subcontinent can relate to. A woman abandoned by her boyfriend after an unplanned pregnancy. She also tells about a Canadian Pakistani girl who loses her mental balance after being ditched by her lovers.
This book has a lot of material and even though it’s not compiled perfectly, these stories deserve to be told. More such writings should be coming out of Pakistan. More ordinary tales, not just from the likes of Fatima Bhutto who have lived a life of privilege but from the ordinary Pakistanis- those whose lives are a constant struggle; who face patriarchy and do not give up in the face of adversity; and who in spite of all the flaws of Pakistan manage to remain loyal to their nation.
Tarar’s language isn’t the best and the transition from twitter to writing a full-fledged book is not a cake walk as she must have found out. Nevertheless, she has selected the right theme for this book and deserves credit for coming up with a book that deals with contemporary issues in Pakistan. The structure isn’t built well and the book seems more like a loose collection of a journalist’s notes for reportage rather than a real book.
Tarar shines periodically when she writes about her own personal struggles but it ends too soon. Perhaps she should be more courageous and honest if she wants to be considered a serious writer.