Meet Tanya, the protagonist of a new quick-read from Pakistan, who has “got a pretty good life, working for a Karachi newspaper and smoking-drinking-flirting her way through minor romantic escapades”. The author, Taha Kehar, says that her character is his attempt to cultivate a narrative about what it means to be a woman in Karachi. But are there really many “politically opinionated, liberal, urban women that are both feisty and fearless”, as Tanya is, in Pakistan today?
Kehar, the author of “Typically Tanya”, said that it wasn’t entirely necessary for women in Pakistan (or anywhere else in the world for that matter) to be “liberal” or “urban” in order to have “bold political opinions or take on a fearless, feisty approach to life”.
“Although Pakistan is an inherently patriarchal society where women are subjected to restrictions and excessive surveillance, no measure of constraints can stop them from thinking, dreaming and forging their way in the world. Women in Pakistan have entered the public domain and are reclaiming it by negotiating gender confrontations and challenging archaic norms,” Kehar told IANS in an email interview from Karachi, describing his frame of mind as he shaped Tanya’s character.
He shared that Tanya may epitomise the struggle of Pakistani women, but she belongs to “a privileged segment of Karachi’s elite” that “can operate within a bubble and turn a blind eye to the ground realities”.
“By virtue of her social status, she manages to evade some patriarchal demands and has the freedom to ignore the restrictions imposed by the public sphere. But even then, it would be flawed to assume that she isn’t influenced by patriarchy in her everyday life. While writing ‘Typically Tanya’, I had to remain mindful of these subtle nuances,” he said.
Kehar, himself a journalist, said that he wanted to break away from Western ideas of Karachi as “a battle-hardened, conflict-riddled city” and understand it from the perspective of its citizens.
He also admitted that the male gaze could claw its way into the narrative and possibly even shrink the space for the female perspective. “The primary challenge was to elbow away all male-centric notions to prevent them from distorting Tanya’s perspective,” he said, adding that he discussed his protagonist’s traits with some of his female friends, who spent their days cooped up in newsrooms like Tanya does in the novel.
Maintaining that Tanya’s experiences may not be “entirely representative” of all independent and modern Pakistani women, Kehar, however, asserted that like most of them, Tanya recognises “the importance of making her own choices” and “taking charge of her own life”.
The author, published in both Indian and Pakistani media, said that Indian readers might enjoy Tanya’s humour, her friendship with Inder, an Indian journalist who is reporting from Pakistan. The book might also interest some readers who enjoy political polemics.
Asked to describe his novel for Indian readers, the author obliged, saying: “‘Typically Tanya’ is about Karachi, journalism and relationships between misfits. It is about a woman’s journey in negotiating these minefields. The protagonist isn’t obsessed with marriage and is unwilling to compromise her own dignity at the altar of a groom chosen by a rishta aunty.”
Kehar has previously published a collection of poems and “Typically Tanya” is his debut novel. Published by HarperCollins India, it is priced at Rs 299.