Youth Voices

A Dancer’s Tale

By Ghalia Zainab

Eager to learn

This story highlights the plight and aspirations of a young Pakistani girl who is forced to adopt dancing as a profession out of poverty and illiteracy. Dancing is considered dishonourable in this part of the world due to a number of societal and religious reasons.

She hid behind the pillar with her eyes closed, her insight in the hallway.

….The woman in white stamped her left foot to the ground, creating a magical rhythm that upset the beats of observers….

She was no astrologer, and not an expert seer; nevertheless she knew what happened around her. She realized why they danced, she knew how painfully they allowed their exploitation, she knew the place she lived in, the air she breathed in, and she knew –where in the social hierarchy was youth resembling her bound to stand – among-st the uneducated, the illiterate, and the ones accused of spreading vulgarity in the society. Unlike many kids of her age, she had slept to the rhythm of the ghungroos and woken up to the sleeping snores of the households in the packed street. Her innocent eyes had witnessed crudeness at its peak, her decent mind still unable to interpret everything. But akin to others like her, she knew – once born to a dancer, one has to live as one. Her approval did not matter – destiny had embraced her lovingly this way.

…She continued moving, making angles to her posture, whilst the ends of her frock swept in a circumference…

She was fifteen, when she discovered a school close to her area. It was afternoon, and she had trodden along unknown paths thinking, in trepidation, of how, sooner or later, she will have to earn her living over her dignity. She had locked her brain in an indefinable turmoil whilst spanning over the reflections of the heavy metallic jewelry, the fancy clothes and heavily scented perfumes she possessed. As she reached the closed terminal of the street, she paused and noticed the evacuated building, so she stepped inside; mapping every nook and corner she sauntered along. The chalky blackboards, the desks, and the letters on the board – Her heart still bleating to attain freedom, she wanted to grab every opportunity to run away from the streets to enroll at that place for a day. If only they would let her in… What if they really ‘could’? What if she really could go to school like the other privileged youth, learn and develop a career, and live earnestly? Her eyes twinkled with the brightness, and she beamed at herself. She would try, she definitely would.

… The cheap item song hit her ear-drums and stirred her deeply. She imagined the sly smiles on the faces of the observers and stamped her feet, to allow for the echo of the melody of the ghungroos…

During the next few months, she secretly attended all the classes at that school, while standing at the windows of whatever classroom she wanted too. She learnt, progressed, improved her intellect and developed her senses – she realized that she, too, could be a part of the responsible youth of the nation. Shabnam had ‘crossed her heart and hoped to die’ rather than spit out her secret school attending. However, fate defied her no sooner. On a cold, wet November morning, the school principal spotted a kid leaning against school building, and questioned her fiercely of her secrecy.

… Whistles, cheap comments and currency notes followed; she tapped and flaunted her ornaments with planned elegance. The smell of cheap liquors entered her nostrils, irritated her nerves, but she had to keep moving…

She had long ago convinced herself of the prospect of an inclination for formal education and had her fear shattered in the face of her confidence. Hence, she confidently revealed her story to the Principal – the part about being inquisitive to learn, and not having parents to pay for it, because of their stereotypes. What happened next was no fairy-tale. The woman asked her biographical details, astounded that a girl who doesn’t know who her real parents are, and one who belongs to cheap dancers, wants to study with the kids who come from families with a pure blood-line. She slapped her, to begin with, insulted her, abused her profusely, hit her with wooden canes, and brought her dragged by her hair to the assembly area, where she humiliated her in front of the school.

‘A girl from these ‘cheap’ dancers comes to me and praised me. She said she wants to learn at my school. I despise this act, solemnly do, and I would rather die then take credits from shameless people as you. This school is for respectful people, and children from respectful families. You’re brazen, and barefaced. Let alone schooling, you don’t even deserve to live’.

She spit at her face as she dismissed the public.

… Her eyes, lined with kohl, watered, but she had to lock her tears in. She couldn’t afford to displease her guests. But she couldn’t dance anymore; she had to stop. With one last stamp, Shabnam ended the performance!

She stood in the hallway with her eyes closed, her insight at the front door, wondering if she would escape through it. If only she could quit her miserable life without having to embrace death.