In this article, I would like to weave my writings for newspapers with a bit of my personal story of physical disability.
Though I have been occasionally writing for newspapers in Pakistan since 1997; I have only taken to writing consistently a few years ago. This September 2021 marks the third year since I have been writing regularly for newspapers in Pakistan. I mainly write on social science issues for The News and The Daily Times; but also occasionally write for the Naya Daur website and Dawn’s Books and Authors section. So far, I have written well over 100 columns for newspapers since September 2018.
I use published journal articles, reports, and books as the source material for my newspaper columns. I am qualified to use qualitative research methods for my work as a social scientist. I am not a quantitative researcher; though I use secondary quantitative data from time to time in my writings. Qualitative researchers use fieldwork on the topic of their research to gather primary data that informs their analysis. I am no longer able to do fieldwork; so I use published social science literature for my writings. This is as close an approximation to scholarly research as I can get.
Though I have had an overweight problem for some decades now and I have experienced progressively diminished physical activity in the last decade; I started to find it difficult to walk much on my own since the summer of 2017. I stopped driving even before 2017. This physical disability started getting worse over the years since April 2018. So much so that now I cannot walk even for a minute on my own any longer, nor can I climb stairs. I weigh more than 300 pounds.
I have quietly accepted my physical disability. Like someone who goes blind in the later years of his/her life or like someone who could not hear any more but they can pull up colours, images, sights, and sounds from their past; I also rely on memories of my active life in the past
My heart is also in quite a precarious situation. I get totally breathless with even a little bit of physical activity. I even get tired when I eat my food or have tea and need rest after eating/drinking to recuperate. Now I increasingly need help to even shower. I am extremely dependent on my husband for my sustenance and daily upkeep, who is taking great care of me, as he always has.
Now my world is confined to my bedroom and the living room on the ground floor. I am mostly in bed or lying on the sofa. I only get up to have meals and tea. I read printed/published material for newspaper columns while lying down on the bed or sofa. I also read electronic sources for my writing on my device while lying. I only sit on my desk for a few hours to write my columns, after I have already read the source material while lying down.
I have quietly accepted my physical disability. Like someone who goes blind in the later years of his/her life or like someone who could not hear any more but they can pull up colours, images, sights, and sounds from their past; I also rely on memories of my active life in the past. As a young student, I travelled quite a bit. When I started doing social science research and worked on the issues of decentralization, local government elections, and dispensation of justice; I travelled all over in the rural areas of Pakistan covering Sindh, Punjab, the then NWFP (now KP) and Balochistan. I have seen Pakistan that matters. Now I cannot travel anywhere inside or outside Pakistan.
My physical disability is progressively getting worse. For example, in the first year of my active regular writing for newspapers from September 2018 to 2019; I could approximately write one column after every 5 days based on social science literature. Not so in the second and third year of my active writing. Now, I am happy if I could manage to write two columns in a month. Due to my physical disability; I have also turned down a few job opportunities that I got in the last few years.
Having come to terms with my physical disability gives me peace of mind. I am not agitated about it. It is a natural course of life of physical decline that has matured earlier in my case than others due to my chronic weight and heart problem. The best way forward is to accept it and live to the fullest with all the limitations that life has imposed on you.
Let me discuss my writings for newspapers now – in more than 100 columns so far. I broadly write on the themes of Political Economy, Governance, Democracy, Gender, and Social Development.
In Political Economy, I have looked at topics, amongst others, such as Pakistan being an overdeveloped State, the informal sector, economic reforms, water and power sector losses, rights and economy, negotiations with the IMF, technical and vocational training, contradictions in capitalism, budget making, industrial development, imperialism, CPEC, uneven development, GSP plus, skills development, organizational development, the Planning Commission, economic planning, exports, structural reforms, industrial policy, institutional strengthening, water issues and the state-owned enterprises.
In Governance, I have reviewed topics, amongst others, such as judicial reforms, role of the elite, decentralization, local governance issues, corruption, civil service reforms, Covid response, information and power relations, political governance, judicial accountability, science of cities, rule of law and digital drive.
In Democracy, I have written on topics, amongst others, such as federalism and the NFC award, the hybrid regime, rural voting, left politics, eighteenth amendment, federalism and CPEC, decline in the West, democratic backsliding, constituency-level elections and local governments, accountability, party-voters linkage, local democracy, issues of democracy and election manipulation
In Gender, I have taken into account topics, amongst others, such as women’s labour force participation, women’s political participation, history of women in politics, democracy and gender, the gender budgeting, feminist fun, women’s employment in the informal sector, women and governance, pandemic and women workers, women and politics, women’s empowerment, global gender gap report, and women in by-elections.
In Social Development, I have covered topics, amongst others, such as education issues, labour issues, human development, urbanization issues, poverty issues, social sector development issues, civil society issues, dispossession and property, justice for prisoners, single national curriculum, BISP and social protection, progressive rights agenda, poverty reduction and social protection.
There are some other miscellaneous columns as well. I have also written book reviews of McCartney and Akbar Zaidi’s edited volume New Perspectives on Pakistan’s Political Economy: State, Class and Social Change (2019); Shandana Mohmand’s Crafty Oligarchs, Savvy Voters: Democracy Under Inequality in Rural Pakistan (2019); and Mufti, Shafqat, and Siddiqui’s edited volume Pakistan’s Political Parties: Surviving Between Dictatorship and Democracy (2020/2021). These days, I am writing about Asma Faiz’s book In Search of Lost Glory: Sindhi Nationalism in Pakistan (2021).
In terms of work satisfaction, the last three years since I have been writing regularly on social science issues for newspapers in Pakistan have also been the happiest years of my life. I read and write for myself. I read at leisure and determine my own pace of writing. I am the master of my work destiny. May I continue to read and write for as long as possible as this is one of the sources of my happiness.
Mine is a story of triumph of hope and resilience over adversity. If I can continue to write despite all the physical challenges I have; it should inspire others to overcome their difficulties as well.
The writer is an Islamabad-based social scientist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org