The best Pakistani culture writing from 2019 you need to read if you haven't already

Today, we're taking stock of the past 12 months by rounding up some of our most memorable pieces.

Updated 27 Dec, 2019 02:21am


2019 has nearly come to an end and we think we speak for everyone when we say we're ready to kick it to the curb.

That said, it's been an eventful year and we at Images have had our hands full. From the crumbling economy affecting our favourite past time aka eating out to Pakistani desi-tination weddings to what it's like being a single woman over 30 while living in Pakistan, we've got a lot of ground to cover.

Today, we're taking stock of the past 12 months by rounding up some of our most memorable pieces of culture writing of 2019 — pieces that have stayed with us long after we've read them and sparked necessary conversation.

Some stories stood out more than others for their relevance and the response they garnered from you, our readers.

Read through our pick of our favourite — and most popular — articles of 2019:

1) What is Dirilis Ertugrul and why does Imran Khan want Pakistanis to watch it?

Set at the crossroads of empires, the show focuses on the figure of Ertugrul Ghazi, his family and friends.
Set at the crossroads of empires, the show focuses on the figure of Ertugrul Ghazi, his family and friends.

"For many, watching Ertugrul is like Alice walking through the looking glass; the Muslim characters are the ones making the good decisions, caring for the weak, standing for principles and defying oppression. As with all fiction, historical accuracy is somewhere in the hazy middle."

Television critic Sadaf Haider explains why Dirilis, an action-adventure full of sword fights is basically a Turkish Game of Thrones about the Muslim Oghuz Turks.

2) This drag comedian confronts power with a laugh in Karachi

Miss Phudina Chuttni's thematic inspiration is sexuality – but she uses it as a springboard for all sorts of political and social commentary.
Miss Phudina Chuttni's thematic inspiration is sexuality – but she uses it as a springboard for all sorts of political and social commentary.

"'Miss Chuttni is urbanised – a regular, every day urban Pakistani. She had to have a desi name. I wanted to create a desi as hell drag character,' says Muhammad Moiz."

Freelancer Aiman Rizvi has a heart to heart with Miss Pudina Chuttni. The result? One endearing profile of an icon she says is "funny, clever and out to burn down the patriarchy."

3) Greying hair in your 20s? I honestly don't care

Honestly, if I got paid every time someone stopped me to ask if my hair is natural or not, I might worry less about delayed payments for my work, wrote Zoya Anwer.
Honestly, if I got paid every time someone stopped me to ask if my hair is natural or not, I might worry less about delayed payments for my work, wrote Zoya Anwer.

"It's difficult to even get an appointment for anything without someone looking at me skeptically before asking me about my hair and feeling sorry for me.

I think the best ones are those who just ask me why, and if my mood is sour, I make them feel awkward by bringing in death, grief and the class struggle and its implications on the human body in ways we can’t imagine. If they are lucky, I say, "Life happened," and move on."

Who knew sporting salt and pepper hair in your 20s would be dubbed as an act of valour, a symbol of courage? Freelance writer Zoya Anwer shared her story.

4) How Pakistan’s teetering economy is impacting your favourite restaurants

From importer to consumer, the whole supply chain has been affected; prices have gone up considerably.
From importer to consumer, the whole supply chain has been affected; prices have gone up considerably.

"'Everything is screwed up. Completely out of order,' Sarah Aziz of Karachi's fine-dining eatery D'Alma tells me. The restaurateur imports ingredients for special flavours in her Portuguese-inspired dishes, but due to the amended policies she's worried she won't be able to source from abroad for long."

In 2019, the government cracked its whip on import regulations due to which many restaurants that rely heavily on imported goods are now finding it hard to work under the new levies.

In the face of high inflation and non-trade barriers, food businesses are in a state of flux. Our health and fitness writer, Munnazzah Raza digs into how these factors have impacted business and leisure.

5) My walk through Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, is the most common hormonal condition affecting women of reproductive age.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, is the most common hormonal condition affecting women of reproductive age.

"Imagine a painful period. Not like “Oh, I’ll sleep it off and hopefully I can go to school/college/university/work in the morning,” but more like “Will I even wake up to see the morning?” I’m 23 years old and this has been my reality for almost a decade now."

We don't know what exactly causes PCOS but we do know that it is incredibly common; it is said that the hormonal condition affects 1 in 10 women and less than half of them know it. Contributor Manal Khan reveals what it's like grappling with symptoms.

6) Meet Pakistani gamer Arslan Ash, the best Tekken player in the world

As a young Pakistani who ventured far away from the usual paths of doctor or engineer, Arslan's story resonated with many.
As a young Pakistani who ventured far away from the usual paths of doctor or engineer, Arslan's story resonated with many.

"Arslan is currently playing under UAE team vSlash but hopes to see more Pakistanis take up careers in gaming and believes that because of his win, 'a lot of people will come and see how good the Pakistani players are and they will get more opportunities.'"

Senior sub-editor, Sonia Ashraf sits down with the the gamer who made history by becoming the first Pakistani to win the biggest esports tournament of the year for Tekken.

7) Are digital facelift apps like Facetune harmless fun, or should women be afraid?

I soon discovered these apps are a slippery slope: they could give your confidence the boost it needs or take a toll on you in ways you didn't expect.
I soon discovered these apps are a slippery slope: they could give your confidence the boost it needs or take a toll on you in ways you didn't expect.

"Everyone knows you're seeing the director's cut of someone's life on social media but it has become so common that people are somewhat applauded for keeping up the charade. It's like the WWE; you believed they were really fighting each other when you were young, found out it's not real yet continued watching it, in denial of the fact that it's trickery."

With excellent photo-editing apps available on our phones, altering your appearance can easily become an addiction. Do we even know what real skin looks like anymore? Managing editor, Anum Rehman Chagani investigates.

8) I tried to forget I was sexually harassed... until I couldn't help but remember

A documentary about Michael Jackson's legacy of abuse brought the writer back to his own personal 'Neverland'.
A documentary about Michael Jackson's legacy of abuse brought the writer back to his own personal 'Neverland'.

"It was important for me to understand that Sir Bilal befriended us, somewhat manipulated us and groomed us without us even realising it because of his otherwise unassuming personality."

An ordinary day turned into a brush with a sexual predator. Years later, a documentary forced a survivor to confront the past.

9) Yes, you can have a destination wedding right here in Pakistan

Desi-tination wedding is one that’s hosted at a local destination — in the hills, by the lake, in Murree, Nathiagali, Bhurban or even Hunza.
Desi-tination wedding is one that’s hosted at a local destination — in the hills, by the lake, in Murree, Nathiagali, Bhurban or even Hunza.

"Desi-tination weddings are breaking stereotypes too. For starters, they are different from traditional weddings and add innovation to celebrations. They help cut down the total number of events which, admittedly, works for everyone: fewer clothes to make, lighter on the pocket for hosts and guests alike, less time-consuming and more fun."

For a stunning location without having to get on a plane and spend dollars, all you need is creativity — and that's exactly what people who hosted desi-tination weddings had. (And yes, there are photos.) Writer Hafsah Sarfraz gives you the low-down on changing stereotypes, challenges that come with hosting a destination wedding and damage on the pocket.

10) What are Pakistan's educational institutes doing to manage their mental health crisis?

Who can students turn to for help?
Who can students turn to for help?

"You would think an educational institution's understanding of mental health would be nuanced and complex. However, driven by profit but run within opaque non-profit structures, educational institutions are worse off than say private corporations in how they handle employee (teachers, faculty) and customer (students) wellbeing.”

Are universities finally taking notice of the student mental health crisis at hand? Journalist Tooba Masood takes a closer look.

11) If people could just stop victim-blaming Rabi Pirzada, that'd be great

Not long after her privacy was breached, Rabi Pirzada announced that she is leaving the entertainment industry behind.
Not long after her privacy was breached, Rabi Pirzada announced that she is leaving the entertainment industry behind.

"The expression of faux outrage is particularly hypocritical; those who seek and watch the videos are the same ones involved in harassing, publicly shaming and ridiculing Pirzada for making them in the first place."

There were many cases of “leaked” celebrity videos this year. We pointed out that’s illegal — and why we shouldn’t blame the victim.

12) Khalil Ur Rehman Qamar is the biggest feminist around, as long as you're a 'good woman'

While we've decided to ignore the misogyny that is Meray Pass Tum Ho for the most part, this interview by its writer was too bizarre not to mention.
While we've decided to ignore the misogyny that is Meray Pass Tum Ho for the most part, this interview by its writer was too bizarre not to mention.

"Qamar mentioned asking a person, "Have you seen the news where a woman was kidnapped by five men? But have you ever heard of five women kidnapping a man? Do that! If you want equality then do that!" I'll know there's equality if I hear about women robbing buses and gang-raping men."

There's a lot to unfold there, like how the writer condones violence and thinks feminism should be based on such heinous acts. Can't believe this needs to be said but no, when we ask for equality, we don't mean equally partaking in assaulting each other."

The self-proclaimed biggest feminist of Pakistan is anything but. The Images desk took one for the team and watched this masterclass in mansplaining so you don't have to.

13) These unconventional Pakistani weddings were full of love in the most unique way

Who doesn't love a good wedding story?
Who doesn't love a good wedding story?

"We were 23 with hardly any money in our pockets and did not want to start married life with a ton of debt looming over our heads. As cliché as it sounds and with the spirit of Valentine's Day around the corner, I need to say that although a lot people look to turn their wedding day(s) into this fairy tale, a dream of a perfect day; for me, the fairy tale was always in the happily ever after."

Over: Instagram weddings that are corporatized affairs about celebrating your bank accounts. Into: Weddings that encourage intimate settings, environmental conservation and economising.

14) Emotional abuse is a slippery subject but TV drama Khaas gets it right so far

2019 was basically the year when most collectively hated every character played by Ali Rehman Khan especially Amar from Khaas!
2019 was basically the year when most collectively hated every character played by Ali Rehman Khan especially Amar from Khaas!

"It’s clear that Amar is a narcissist who projects a public persona of sweetness and generosity but is actually emotionally abusive, controlling and entirely self-centered. Like most victims of this kind of abuse Saba doubts her own feelings of demoralisation and is constantly trying to measure up to her new husband’s expectations."

Emotional abuse is playing with a person’s emotions in order to undermine and control them; it's one of the subtlest forms of abuse, which makes it difficult to spot. Khaas took the bold step of highlighting a subject that remains hidden in plain sight.

15) This new salon in Karachi is a dream come true for transgender activist Bebo Haider

Bebo has named her salon Trawah which she reveals is a slang term from within the transgender community, which means makeup/makeover.
Bebo has named her salon Trawah which she reveals is a slang term from within the transgender community, which means makeup/makeover.

"The reason I want to do this is that many times, when trans people work at salons, people don't mind getting services done by them. But when we go into a salon wanting a treatment or something as basic as a haircut, we get told the parlour is only for women. Suddenly as trans people we can't be there. This is a hurtful thing to go through and I didn't like it at all. That's why I took this step with Sabrang."

Bebo Haider is an aesthetician and trans activist. She opens up to senior sub-editor, Sonia Ashraf about her story.

16) It seems Generation doesn't know how much Pakistani schoolteachers earn

A series of photos selling three piece suits for teachers priced way above what an average schoolteacher could afford. Phew.
A series of photos selling three piece suits for teachers priced way above what an average schoolteacher could afford. Phew.

"It’s a classic example of a brand positioning its product to capitalise on a working class aesthetic while the price point clearly falls into the upper-middle category. It says, 'Hey, we want to be inclusive, but will still have a price range that isn’t.'"

Generation's campaign geared towards the education sector backfired, sparking a debate on social media about how out of touch with reality seemingly "woke brands" can be. In this comment piece, Manal Khan, a daughter of a teacher discusses how this particular photoshoot appeared to be a misrepresentation of a schoolteacher’s life.

17) We thought we knew Ahmed Ali Akbar and Mansha Pasha. Laal Kabootar proved us wrong

Ahmed Ali Akbar and Mansha Pasha are flying high on the wings of a Laal Kabootar – and it’s about time too.
Ahmed Ali Akbar and Mansha Pasha are flying high on the wings of a Laal Kabootar – and it’s about time too.

"'To be honest, Ahmed and I only got to talk during Laal Kabootar’s promotions,' reveals Mansha. 'On the set, Kamal insisted that we remain strangers so that it comes out that way on screen. He wanted to maintain this silence between us. Any time that I started hanging out too much on set, he would tell me to seclude myself. I even had my lunch alone!'"

While both actors were quite well-known and had worked in an extensive number of projects, there’s no denying that very few truly interesting roles had come their way in the past. That is until Laal Kabootar came along. Senior fashion writer, Maliha Rehman sits down with the breakout duo of the year just as they are on the brink of superstardom.

18) How did Emmad Irfani come to be Pakistan's favourite husband?

In TV drama Cheekh, Emmad's portrayal of the supportive husband, Shayan was a breath of fresh air on television.
In TV drama Cheekh, Emmad's portrayal of the supportive husband, Shayan was a breath of fresh air on television.

"Shayan is repping not just hope in the story. He’s hope for everyone. Whatever you’re going through in life, you can turn things around. That’s why I think he struck a chord with the audience,' says Emma Irfani about his beloved Cheekh character."

He's come to be known as the progressive (and handsome!) spouse in Cheekh, but this candid chat with our regular contributor, Maria Kari reveals he's also so much more

19) 8 women reveal what it's like to be single and over 30 while living in Pakistan

Pictured: author.
Pictured: author.

"I don't have a problem with marriage but I want it to be on my terms. Whoever I'm with should not force me to work or not work. It's common in our society for men to marry women, leave them in the village and come to the city for work. I'm the one in the big city right now, I'm not going to go backwards."

Munnazzah Raza asked 8 single Pakistani women above 30 what life is like living in this society: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Here's what they have to say.

20) An uncensored chat with new best friends Osman Khalid Butt and Meera Jee

Meera was very professional throughout, shared OKB.
Meera was very professional throughout, shared OKB.

“'Osman has even proposed to me,' Meera quips before smirking and adding, 'I am kidding of course.' He is also, evidently, her ‘English teacher’ and always helping her out on set. In fact, while I am talking to Osman, I keep noticing Meera making a video of him.

When I ask her why she’s recording the conversation, she flashes her dimples. 'I am going to steal his words. Osman speaks well, he is very poetic.'"

Just trust us. You want to read this eye-opening, entertaining conversation Maliha Rehman had with the Baaji co-stars.

21) A timeline of every celebrity reaction to the LSA nomination controversy

Jami, who has been vocal on social media about the award's harassment controversy chose to leave one of his LSA statuettes on the streets as a sign of retaliation.
Jami, who has been vocal on social media about the award's harassment controversy chose to leave one of his LSA statuettes on the streets as a sign of retaliation.

"Lux Style Awards has long been synonymous with controversy but this year's backlash is different.

The nominations released by LSA on March 30 included an artist accused of sexual harassment. The pushback was instant, with model Eman Suleman withdrawing her nomination in protest the same night. And after a brief lull, Eman's statement snowballed into a much larger movement with several more nominees refusing to participate in the LSA for honouring an accused harasser."

Keeping track of who said what got confusing. We break it down for you.


Think we missed a noteworthy piece? Tell us in the comments below about which ones you enjoyed reading most!