From Brooklyn to Pakistan - Poems & Stories with Meetra Javed

Image by Meetra Javed

Image by Meetra Javed

Words by Sunayah Arshad

Writing something personal can be intimidating at times, but also really relieving. For many of us, writing is a form of self-expression and communication, whether it’s in the form of a diary, story, lyrics or poetry.

I caught up with Meetra Javed. A creative, producer, project manager and poet. Meetra interprets her persona of being a young Pakistani-American woman through her creative work and poems, written in both English and Urdu.

Similarly to many South-Asians (myself included), Meetra was encouraged to follow a career path that strayed far from what she actually wanted: a future in the creative industry. “Many South Asian kids at a young age are discouraged from pursuing the arts because it means to plunge into the unknown, as opposed to the safety and security of being a doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc,” she says. “This was the world my parents were accustomed to in Pakistan. I tried their world and left very unfulfilled. I took the leap into another world.” At 27 years old, Meetra is working at a creative agency in New York, doing social and digital work for adidasOriginals. In her spare time, she writes. “I write every day after work, or in the shower, or on the train - or really any chance I get.”

At a young age in America, Meetra listened to artists such as Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground and Jagjit Singh. She discovered that her love for music was in fact down to the lyrics, which inspired her to start writing poetry. “I learned how much writing in music affected me more than anything,” she recalls. “To me, those musicians were also poets that could communicate on universal levels. Then, of course, I started reading more formally and was inspired by classic writers and poets.” More recently, Meetra has been incorporating Urdu into her poems, “Writing in Urdu is incredible for me, it’s special to think about translation in language. Writing in general is the most vulnerable feeling in the world for me. It’s a place that feels forever challenging, yet simultaneously…safe.”

When Meetra first got in touch with the team, she mentioned her upcoming poetry book ‘Standard Deviation’. “My book is poems of all lengths written in sporadic formats. The goal is - from page to page the reader feels the distances of age and life and moments. There is a disconnect to reconnect notion, which is very much intentional,” she explains. Having finished the first draft last year, she admits, “This year that version has drastically changed. There is still a lot I want to fix in the editing process, which is the hardest.” Meetra shared a couple of the poems from her book - some short, some long, but all personal, raw and honest. The team chose two of her poems ‘Boundaries’ and ‘Our Village’. I asked Meetra to define what they represent…

How can you draw a line

when the pen is snatched out

of your hand?

Boundaries was written as a very quick and instinctual response to invasiveness of personal space. I wrote it out of anger. It’s about powerlessness in a situation but knowing your power still exists. However, boundaries and verifying where they end and begin is always complex. It’s an invisible wall. Where do we draw the line between ourselves and other people, and what role does social construction predetermine levels of entitlement?”

Image by Meetra Javed

Image by Meetra Javed

I had to give myself back to

my country; to the

village where

my great grandmother

blind in both eyes, led

horses to water- in the

village where she wore

loose golden anklets,

tarnished from routine-

that rang like bells,

which were passed

on carefully to live

in a wooden chest

for kin, like me as an

artifact of meaning

enclosed until

the day I would be wed-

not to be sold unless

love itself was poor

abusive

so a woman could

take what was hers

and use it to live

but love was never poor

in our village

where the strength

of a woman was

measured by her

will not the capacity

of her womb - even

though she had seven

children who spread

their seeds in

continents that

had no regard for

their names- or

blood-

where visas were denied

at burial invitations

and I saw my uncles face

in a rear view mirror

full of a river that never

opened into an ocean.

nature denying itself

was the measurement

of a pain I never wanted

to know.


Our Village is about returning to the beauty and roots of where you come from. After my great grandfather died, my great grandmother essentially ran a village in Pakistan. She had many kids who had many kids and lived to be over 100 years in age before she passed away. An incredibly strong woman who rode horses in her younger years and worked on farms - I can’t help but find strength in knowing I have her genes. Last year, my Grandfather passed. My Uncle never got his visa approved to go to the funeral or even visit his father’s grave after his death. He was sitting in the back seat of my car on our way home from the embassy, after multiple applications, with tears in his eyes. It’s those little moments in life you just take with you and carry into your work. The pain of that feeling, that loss, that restraint multiplies because you know you're not the only one carrying it. Simultaneously the immigration ban was taking place so it was hard to not be angry.”

Image by Meetra Javed

Image by Meetra Javed

Along with writing poetry, Meetra also takes photographs and films. A couple of years ago, she began working on a documentary in Pakistan that caught my attention. The short clip I saw was beautifully shot, it was personal, it hit home. “I went out on a limb and to be frank, it felt like chasing a unicorn,” she tells me. “The story was about women being married to the Quran by wealthy landowners to prevent those landowners from paying dowry. A practice in rural Sindh gone by the name of ‘Haq Bakshish’.”

In many parts of the world, it’s an accustomed tradition for families to provide some sort of dowry (properties, expensive jewellery, money etc) when their daughter gets married. The tradition of giving dowries is a controversial subject, which sometimes results in disputes and extreme violence. The taboo practice of ‘Haq Bakshish’ means that the daughter is no longer allowed to wed a man. For the parents, it means that they no longer have to give away their assets.

Speaking about her trip to Pakistan, Meetra recounts, “I was lucky to be introduced to a woman through a fixer at Vice. It was an insane, emotional, painful interview in the basement of a law office in Pakistan. Grown men cried in the room. I had no idea what on Earth I was doing to be honest. Still, it was by far the biggest highlight of my insight into my privilege and how crazy the world we live in is. I interviewed lawyers and Supreme Court judges who knew of these things, but acknowledged cases were always dismissed.”

Due to multiple reasons Meetra was unable to complete the documentary, but hopes to revisit it with the right resources, funds and time that it deserves. Sometimes it’s taking the first few steps that matter the most. From writing to producing, Meetra has had the courage to start each journey and we look forward to seeing more.

For updates on her creative projects, excerpts from her book and more beautiful images, head to her website: https://www.meetrajaved.com/

MEETRAS BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS:

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, Agua Viva by Clarice Lispector, Anything by James Baldwin, If They Come for Us by Fatima Asghar, Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles, The Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaurd






AZEEMA -