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Rafia Zakaria
Rafia Zakaria is the author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (2015) and Veil (2017). She is a columnist at Dawn, Pakistan's largest English newspaper and writes the "Alienated" column for The Baffler, New York. She also contributes regularly to Guardian Books and CNN. She is a contributing editor for the Chicago Review of Books.

They Wanted Her Body

A family member shows pictures of slain fashion model Qandeel Baloch, July 22, 2016. Associated Press.

Rafia Zakaria | Longreads | December 2018 | 13 minutes (3,450 words)

It happened in July, amid the sweltering summer heat of the plains of Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province. It was one of those days when sweat flows in streams, the beads of depleted moisture dripping down backs and armpits and foreheads as people walk and talk and complain about the heat as if it were a newcomer among them.

The murdered woman was Qandeel Baloch, a 26-year-old Pakistani YouTube sensation, whose risqué videos, laden with erotic subtext, had so angered her brother that he strangled her to death. The deed was done late on the night of July 15th. It was late in the morning of the 16th when the first reporter from Pakistan’s rapacious 24-hour news media arrived in the neighborhood.

That journalist was Arif Nizami. After receiving an anonymous tip, he raced to the area and demanded of passersby that he be taken to the “Karachi Hotel.” “This is Karachi-Hotel,” some sympathetic soul finally told him, “the whole neighborhood is Karachi-Hotel.” The comic absurdity of this moment, while an apt metaphor for a country bewildered by looking at itself — especially in the new ways made possible by the internet, ways at which Qandeel Baloch excelled — is a contrast to the tragic scenes that were to follow, all painstakingly recreated in Pakistani journalist Sanam Maher’s book The Sensational Life and Death of Qandeel Baloch. The book tells an extraordinary story: Qandeel Baloch’s internet fame was built almost entirely from suggestive innuendo-laden videos, shot and shared late at night when millions of Pakistani men go online in search of sexual satisfaction. Qandeel knew that this audience was out there, and in speaking directly to them she captured their erotic imagination.

Tragically for Qandeel Baloch, what Pakistani men love to love in private, they love to excoriate in public. Sexual fantasies, or the women who are part of them, must be shamed with the same ferocity with which their bodies are lusted after. It was this truth which led to Qandeel’s death that summer day, a grisly mix of rage and misogyny ending with her brother’s hands around her neck. In the hours after Arif Nizami arrived at the scene, a sweaty mob of media men crowded before the door of the house where Qandeel lay dead, her body already swollen from heat and decay as the temperature rose. The male gaze, lust-laden in life, had turned voyeuristic in death, the journalists, most of them men, clamoring and pushing and shoving to get a shot of her corpse. Read more…

Hemingway’s Last Girl

Keystone / Stringer for Getty, Photo illustration by Katie Kosma


Rafia Zakaria | Longreads | July 2018 | 9 minutes (2,372 words)

It all began because of a comb. Sometime after four in a dark and cold Italian morning, a young woman accompanied a band of men to a duck shoot. After it was over and the frigid hunters sat by the fire, the eighteen-year old Adriana Ivancich, the only woman in the gathering, asked for a comb for her long black hair. Nearly all the men in the party ignored her and kept up their talking. Ernest Hemingway, however, was not ever one to let a lady go unattended. After rooting around in his pockets, he produced a comb, broke it in half and gave it to her. It was a very Hemingway gesture, chivalrous and theatric and meant very much to be memorable. (63)

It would be. The Hemingway that was at the duck shoot that frigid morning may have been a rotund and aging man who presided over slightly slacking but still eminent literary career, but he remained ever amenable to the charms of women. The duck shoot was not even the first time the two had met; that had happened the night before, when Hemingway, along with Adriana’s cousin Nanuk Franchetti, the host of the duck shoot, had picked her up by the side of road.

Andrea Di Robilant’s Autumn in Venice: Ernest Hemingway and His Last Muse is a chronicle of sorts of this last affair. Hemingway, then very much married to Mary Welsh Hemingway, who had ostensibly “stolen” him away from Martha Gellhorn, romanced Adriana right under his wife’s nose. The story of Adriana and Hemingway was initially interposed between Mary Hemingway’s “major shopping sprees” (87), “hours of sightseeing” and yet more shopping trips. It ended with Adriana and almost her entire family installed in the Hemingway’s home, fixtures at the caviar laden, booze filled evenings that oiled Hemingway’s daily grind. Read more…