Daughters of Bilquis – Fartashia Wijdan

“Writing is an ancient form of prayer”- Fatema Mernissi


We don’t speak of love; we make it. Hands knead and carefully roll round chapatis. Fingers rake through hair and gently rub almond oil. Chai is cooked till it is the color of earth. Pakoras are fried and chutneys are minced. Kindnesses, memories and worries are enacted into existence under the dim kitchen light. This is how we make and in this code of being, in its bones and crevices: we plant love that need not be voiced, only felt.

We don’t speak of love; we teach it. We teach it to the daughter who just finished 11th grade and wants to try out for the sports team. We say, meri jaan, put on this ironed shalwar kameez and come; there is a visitor. We say come, come, it will be a merry affair, oh, how lovely they both look together. We teach the way to the husband’s heart. We say, compromise is a woman’s way of life. Her way of being. Her salvation. We repeat, think of the life ahead of you and don’t shed tears over what you could have been.

We don’t speak of love; we pass it on. I don’t want to; I don’t know how to. Her insistence and apprehension sucks the air out the room. Bewildered, she silently pleads: If only, she was here with me. Her mother, strokes her hair and explains: This is how it ought to be, you’ll learn to love. Everyone does; think of it as duty. I promise, it will be easy. Under the Quran and surrounded by her mother’s prayers, we pass her on to live the life she was meant to lead.

We don’t speak of love; we show it. Beta, cover your head, says nani. Now, take this tasbeeh and on each bead recite Allah’s name. This recitation is a testament to your love for Him. You love Him, that’s why you pray. Granddaughter asks, but what if the tasbeeh breaks and the beads fall apart? Will Allah still love me the same? A silence hangs, nani nods and takes her hand.

We don’t speak of love; we question it. Humming along her grandmother’s favorite Noor Jehan song, she styles her hair. The length, exactly in accordance with her desires. Desires, the word feels heavy on her tongue, still they unfurl. Apprehensions, questions, a thousand scattered thoughts of what she ought to be. She thinks of her grandmother, her mother; all the love(s) she has been taught. The love that lives within her but what about other ways of living, of loving that don’t require the annihilation of your own being?

She tucks these thoughts but never puts them away. She thinks of love, speaks of love and in the names of her mother(s) prays: Allah, Allah, Allah, it is you who made me, please help me find another way to be.


Fartashia Wijdan is a poet and writer based in Karachi, Pakistan. A Liberal Arts graduate, her writing explores gender, familial relationships and culture. She has previously been published in The Desi Collective, a local literary magazine, and aims to continue writing feminist poetry grounded in her South-Asian heritage.

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