TA Writer of the Week: Shaikh Rafia Sarwar, the cultural analyst

In a candid tone, Rafia tells us about Pakistani culture as we didn’t know or imagine and how sustainability gets her twerking.

While the world today looks at Pakistan with a lens that condemns the existing practices as regressive and where women live in purdah eager to break out to be Malala, Shaikh Rafia Sarwar emerges as a blogger with an independent opinion. In a candid tone, she tells us about Pakistani culture as we didn’t know or imagine and how sustainability gets her twerking.

“Sometimes I volunteer in real life to stretch my legs, but people send me back to machines.”

Tell us a little about yourself

I am computer science graduate having a very quaint relationship with languages, a love-hate affair with technology and a growing interest in psychology. I yearn to understand humans, their relationships and the way they communicate using beautiful languages and emotions. Having moved from a tiny little town to one of the biggest metros, I am often left trying to make sense of people and things that though are common to both urban and rural lives, yet are way different.

Also, something that very few know about you

Being a 9-5 job hater, I am mostly found in my bed using my machines – more consistent and reliable than humans, I tell ya!

Capturing travels with a Nokia

As a woman, what’s it like to be a journalist in Pakistan today? Tell us about your role models in journalism – both Pakistani and internationally? 

Journalism and the blogging community in Pakistan are often found to be at the similar extremes of the country’s political and religious sentiments. Among the barrage of biased posts, it is very hard to find people who actually believe in the existence of tone grey between black and white. Personally, I have always found Rafia Zakaria and Rafay Alam very inspiring. Both of these writers focus on country’s issues, ranging from women empowerment to sustainability and environment protection, and present the problems and their solutions in a very informative and unbiased manner. I wish to be able to some day write on the similar lines – beyond my own biases.

Note: I am not a journalist so cannot talk about women journalism in the country. I am a blogger and researcher who gets things done from the comfort of her home – and the hatred of online community. But can’t compare that heat with the on ground life.

You wrote, “Malala’s cause would have had stronger impact locally with a bit less attention from West – as anything which gets too much of Western endorsement loses its momentum in Pakistan”. This line seems to suggest Pakistan is resentful of any form of western intrusion, understandably in its current political situation. But culturally, do you think Pakistani society is less open to be a part of the global melting pot or is it similar to India where opinions are divided between conservatives and liberals?

Nope! Completely opposite. Pakistani society has always been open to global trends – at least in the urban cities. Being a recent-Karachiite, I find it striking to see many restaurants actually representing different global cuisines in a true sense (they try to). Clothing, living, and food – urban Pakistan is very much culturally mixed with the world.

Chai offers while travelling in Sindh

Indeed, the countryside isn’t that open to other cultures but then isn’t that why rural life is beautiful in its own way? Pure and uncontaminated, yet welcoming to everyone.

How would you define sustainability through your work?

As Churchill so famously says, “To be perfect is to change often.” I believe in consistently changing my portfolio to better adapt to this world. Wait! That sounds like a 55-year-old’s talk. I haven’t yet completely focused on writing for living a sustainable life but I try to focus on regional languages, local food, older ways of cooking and living manners. Our grandparents have actually lived a more beautiful life than us and there is no reason why we can’t. From growing your own vegetables and using animal waste for fuel, to making ghee for yourself, the South Asian Generation Y has inherited many organic ways of living a life. It is just a matter of willing to turn that AC off and move back to fan.

I’m a fan of organic butter-jaggery busree bread.

The best thing you ever read in The Alternative

Wrong question! I have liked many many posts on TA to name only one or two. No doubt, there have been some bad ones too, but I love the fact that I can head to The Alternative anytime when I need to get help with creating something in a eco-friendly way, learning about terrace gardening or knowing about alternative ways to travel (I wish TA gets a sister in Pakistan!). However, the story of the 15-year-old girl who managed to save Rs. 1500 on her electricity bill really hit home. Being called the ‘electricity auditor’ at home, this post actually made me feel happier and hopeful. What a wonderful story! Though I am now too old to take cold showers, hah.

How do you think can The Alternative spread the message on sustainable living?

Living habits are formed in early ages. If The Alternative could reach out to schools on regular basis sharing stories, teaching DIY tricks, working on sustainability projects and organic farming, it would be a wonderful way to teach an entire new generation. Once you get old, studies, jobs, and social expectations keep you busy from following these rather unneeded hobbies of yours. It is important we start teaching our kids who would grow up considering taking care of environment as a crucial necessity rather than a selective luxury.

[Editor’s Note] The Alternative has a pool of writers and contributors who are remarkable in the wide range of topics they cover, their in-depth analysis, and the extent of their work on topics they care about. Every week, we will feature one such writer who has enriched our platform with interesting and diverse stories and views in our TA writer of the week section.


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  • Abhishek Venkatachalam

    Hi, I hope you read this Shaikh Rafia.
    As a fellow tech enthusiast and a tech writer for http://www.wheelsandchips.com, I would like to mention it here that we are proud of you 🙂 .
    Stay Blessed.. 🙂