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Have you ever been through that non-stop work routine to constantly invent colorful and intelligent formats on Excel to make lives easy for the hard working development experts? The routine is so robotic that whenever you are in the deserts of South Punjab, you get goat cravings. You talk to baby goats, especially the ones with bells hanging around their necks. It's not possible not to fall in love with them, hold them and hug them. I tell their owners in the village, "She is so beautiful, and one day you are going to chop her head off and eat her, cruel people! This is my favorite catharsis for the flood affected village women because all they do is laugh when they hear me rant about protecting their baby goats. No sir, no ma'am, no matter how big a pay you get for that creative edge, you are in fact paying a bigger price of losing your innate voice of social activism to a paralyzing extreme. The paralysis comes from a shocking revelation that unique women like me, middle class feminists are rated a little too masculine by social sub-standards. And what to do with those God-gifted macho personality traits when one is married to a handsome income and has several bosses to please? And mind you, there is no policy anywhere in Pakistan that provides compensation for special efforts we invest in curbing our deviance or pretending to be someone we can never be. That, my dear friends, is a real toughie in the world of patriarchy. I have not even begun to challenge Justice Nisar's unjust verdict for Mukhtaran Mai or to celebrate the newly found freedom for transsexuals in Pakistan, or to demand the repeal of Blasphemy Laws or condemn the brutal murders and kidnappings of scholarly civilians, lawyers and academics in Baluchistan. In this state of quagmire, without further ado, I took my much needed escape to the Potohari Arts & Crafts Village in Islamabad for the Hunarmand Artist Residency where four artists from Lahore were exhibiting their solo works. While exploring the vast, gorgeous Potohari landscape, I bumped into its patron Siddiqa Malik, Chairperson of the Indus Heritage Trust (IHT), and listened while she narrated the tale of a troupe of folk artists from Balochistan who were refused by the CDA to avail the residency at the Potohari Arts and Crafts Village. I had no prior insight on the history of this unholy marriage, and perhaps did not want to have any on account of the nausea over CDA's show of political dumbness for shunning the minority artists
like that. Little did the artists know of "non-violent forms of discrimination", and our legal system fails for not defining any penalties against it. "You see, this is the Pakistani problem. We are disloyal to our own homeland. We don't want to take ownership of our civic responsibilities. We love going overseas to mint money, and never return! And this is what happens when you disown your culture. It is a sad state of feudalistic practices," Siddiqa remarked. The alienation of artists from Balochistan in the very capital of Pakistan by the CDA says volumes about the negligence of the State institutions, and further aggravates the already deteriorating trust of the Baloch living in volatile socio-political conditions of the province. I went back to the gallery to finally look at the work and meet the artists with a sunken heart. My gay eyes could not stop staring at Aziz Bibi, a handicrafts expert from Multan, fixed firmly in the black-and-white frames of the photo gallery of Lahore-based artist and veteran, Imran Nafees. She constantly reminded me of Leonardo Da Vinci's mysteriously smiling Mona Lisa. Her possible real self is getting unearthed soon and that would eventually bring an end to the dilemma posed by Silvano Vinceti, Italian researcher and president of Italy's National Committee for Cultural Heritage, that Da Vinci's model for the painting was male. It would be interesting if Mona Lisa turned out transsexual. "There is something very queer about Aziz Bibi, and that's what I loved about her," Imran tells his audience. Interestingly, the other three young artists from Lahore, Kzamania Aslam, Shahzeb Ahmed and Iftikhar ul Hassan made good use of black-and-white for the main subject of their paintings who were mostly feminine-cum-gender neutral caricatures giving life and color to their surroundings but themselves devoid of it - a perfect depiction of what we assume to be humanity. Be it the search for an identity, beauty or the worth of sacrifices or a long journey, it seemed like I am at home and would do anything to have the time-stopping powers of Evie Ethel Garland from out of this world. It felt just right, and I knew it's not going to last very long. Copyright Fakhra Hassan, 2011. All Rights Reserved.