Thursday. Another wonderful day! Morning in Rawalpindi at the Fatima Jinnah University for women. I know this place well. As I had visited it 11 years ago and delivered education and literature workshops. There are young lively women I see everywhere as I walk out of the car. A group of them were taking a break sitting on the grass looking at a laptop. I ask what are you doing. ‘ watching a movie’ I smile and am led into the building to meet my hosts. A group of young female staff greet including a male lecturer whose wife is also a student at the college. As someone devoted to lifelong learning I am thrilled to learn this and congratulate her on this in the signing message for the Holy woman book her husband has brought for her.
The session is lively, great interaction, intelligent women, confident in expressing their ideas, to challenge and praise and gathering eager to buy the 10 books I had with me and lots of photos including outside the veranda with its tall pillars. In the middle of my session a lady walks and staff begin to rise. I learn that she is the current vice chancellor. I think ‘ I know this lovely face’. It turns out to be my former host of 11 years ago from the English department. I am delighted at her achievement. So proud of her.
My message of ‘you can have it all, careers, jobs and family life’ goes down well with these women and their teachers. The meal cooked on the premises is so delicious I have double helpings. Then I am whisked away to the radio studios for the media students – the voice of radio, and am quizzed on so many topics including tips on writing and so on. I leave a very happy woman, knowing I have connected and made more friends and gained new readers!
Thursday. In the late afternoon, as the rain begins to pelt big drops on the car I am whisked back to Islamabad to my host university – IIUI. this time the women campus. I am told and see for myself women from all over the world including from China and Turkey. The buildings are modern and beautiful. still recovering from my previous stint at Fatima Jinnah I entered a large room with 100s of women students all eagerly waiting. There in begins another reading and discussion based on my work, background, identities, issues relating to Pakistan. Again as in FJWU women are very confident and good at expressing their ideas and quizzing me on many aspects and topics. They find the interaction very useful including on writing.
Here my time was divided with another group – the Mphil and Phd student group who are keen to meet me and discuss in particular issues. We have a wonderful lively discussion on so many topics including about the representation of Pakistan by Pakistani writers living abroad and how accurate is that. Portrayal of women in the media and Muslim women around the world. They offer to transcribe the 32 hours of taped recordings of interviews of women I have done in Indonesia, India and Singapore. I am happy to pass the tapes to them.They are enthralled by some of the things I had heard from those women. They are interested in doing research papers on my work. We discuss the textbook on my work The Holy and the Unholy. I was impressed as at other universities by the calibre of these women. Highly intelligent they are devoted to critical analysis of literature and also highly sensitive to the issue of representation of Pakistan and women in literature. I found their debate very engaging and fulfilling. I know our dialogue will continue – if not to face, by Skype. Their professor Munnaza Yakoub was keen to engage me further in their work.