“And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what is known as a madarchod.” Loud laughter filled the little bookstore where I debuted as a stand-up comedian. I glanced triumphantly to my left where my fellow comedians, the Auratnaak ladies, cheered me on. It wasn’t just about ensuring the entire house laughed; it was about letting myself be free of all societal shackles that were added on as I aged. And cussing in public.
Nothing thrilled me more than regaling naughty jokes in a society that was so high strung you’d dare not tell people your favourite instrument was a saxophone- they’d just assume you’re indulging in phone sex.
Auratnaak, being the brainchild of a young stand up comedian called Hassaan Bin Shaheen in Karachi, had come a long way. His idea of an all female comedy troupe could be interpreted in two ways depending on your mentality – one, he genuinely liked and believed in the idea of funny females in an art form that was a sausage fest; two, he wanted to meet ladies. Either way, he was successful in both.
The seed sown – not literally – in Karachi with Faiza Saleem (who founded The Khawatoons) Auratnaak was born in a city known for its cultural vibrancy.
Lahore with its musty old heritage clinging to it like cobwebs to Miss Havisham’s wedding cake had no clue of what was going in the comedy scene. Lahori begumaat’s idea of a joke was still marrying below their standard. And the concept of a funny female was linked pretty much to the eunuchs who danced at their children’s weddings. But typically it took a model and a poet to bring the laughter of Auratnaak to Lahore.
Lucky Hassaan ended up as a guest at model Zara Peerzada’s who took care of the funny boy from Karachi and poet Yusra Amjad rounded up the girls in her typical Lahori launda style. After all she is an avid fighter for the right to loiter in Lahore ki galliyaan. End result? A sold-out show, and Lahore was shocked to the core… and pissing over with laughter. They were the sexiest, the sultriest and the sassiest group of twenty-somethings who spoke about topics that weren’t just taboo – they were multiple stairways to hell. More importantly, they were women who had actively come to talk about their life experiences while competing with men in an art form traditionally owned and dominated by males.
Enter a trendy, Beatles loving, tracksuit bottom wearing woman with curves that left a mess of broken-hearted men in her wake. Me. Or at least that’s what I think of myself. Yep, I personified over-confidence and that’s what got me into Auratnaak. Plus the Aunty mentality of ‘If they can do it, well… I can do it better.’
I walked into my first rehearsal with Auratnaak with a strut that would put John Travolta to shame. Hassaan was getting them to warm up in an activity where they all stood in a circle taking turns to sing songs. Cocky as fuck, I walked up expecting them to revel in all my gloriousness. Except no one noticed me.
This was Auratnaak with a Lahori flavour. Bold, beautiful and clearly not impressed. What on earth did they think when they saw me? A lumpy mother of two, with baby-milk-stained clothes, hair that looked more like a caricature of Amy Winehouse’s beehive at her very worst and a totally outdated sense of music – I had belted out a number by U2 to which no one knew the words. For them I suppose I was a fuzzy mummy who probably was going through a midlife crisis.
“So, what have you got?” asked one of the young ladies who was clearly just being polite. Hassaan watched me cautiously, his entire comedy career on the line here.
I rummaged through my tote bag which was full of baby bottles, a pacifier and nappies. I’d had to bring my baby with me that day. Long gone were the days I held a designer bag as an accessory. In Pakistan by the time you were in your 30s you had to have a baby on your arm to be part of the coolest and hear all the gossip or you were doomed to be part of the coolest and gossiped about.
Clearing my throat, shifting the baby from one side to another, putting on my best accent, I delivered line after line, witticism after witticism, cracked joke after joke. And you know what? The girls were impressed. They were blown away.
In my mind.
Late that night after my customary Facebook post about what a wonderful life I had, I needed to face reality. I sat down next to my heater on a wintry night in December, turned to light it only to find there was no gas. Switched on the electric heater and the fuse blew. Clearly the universe was telling me something: I had to leave my comfort zone.
Showtime. As the resident MILF (as I had been affectionately nicknamed) I was the first one up. Auratnaak had come about for young females to claim art space, break the glass ceiling in the world of desi comedy and to let females redefine what qualified as funny material. I wanted to take things further by shattering perceptions of marriage and motherhood among other issues. All the while ensuring my husband didn’t leave me and take our kids with him.
Did I manage to do that? The laughter that night said it all.
Mehr F Husain is a journalist and short-story writer based in Lahore.