The Harem in Me

I’ve been reading Elif Shafak’s memoir Black Milk: on Writing and Motherhood recently. The writer talks of the “harem of women inside her”, she calls them her Choir of Discordant Voices, her Thumbelinas, her finger-women. These women inside her are both her guides and her critiques; they disagree on everything and argue constantly, there’s no compromise among them. I’ve often thought of my own mini-me’s too, but compared to her, I felt they were rather well-adjusted with each other. Lately though, my own harem (I must say, the idea of a harem in me brings me way too much amusement and delight) – they’ve been rather at odds amongst themselves too.

The mini-me’s I’ve nurtured throughout my life, often dedicating years to the development of only one, are offended – the niche members of the harem suddenly seem to believe they should have an equal say as the ruling queens. The Mubash (all the members of my harem are called Mubash) that wants nothing more than to please her family is confused, as she’s being both encouraged and told off at alternating intervals. Her presence is very integral to my whole self, yet critiqued at every opportunity. She’s always been queen bee of this harem, telling the other girls it’s her that keeps it all ticking nicely.

Then there’s the Mubash that loves the status-quo, afraid of any changes whatsoever, lest they be worse than what she’s familiar with. She’s the one always warning the other girls to be careful and not get carried away by new ideas and opportunities. She hates adventure, and has been edging the whole harem towards a safe domesticity for as long as I’ve known her. She believes she would make a good wife and mother one day, as long as she manages to cage the rest of the harem somehow.

The third Mubash is more of a free-thinker, my own version of Shafak’s “Miss High-browed Cynic”. She’d rather have me invest in learning the reasons behind the harem’s existence and the frequent oppression of some of its members, than anything else. Considerate of the feelings of the others she is not, she’d have me pursuing intellectual growth and freedom at the cost of many hurt feelings and burnt bridges if she could. She likes it when I’m buzzed on coffee or wine, like now – she revels in the creative juices they squeeze out, never mind the headache and anxiety that are part of the package. She can be mean and selfish and is always able to give well-backed arguments as to why she wears those badges with honor. This Mubash is definitely not a believer in love, she scorns all such thought, reminding me that it’s all just brain chemicals and circumstance. But she also hates it when my head clears enough that practicalities demand attention. The only other member of the harem she can stand is Mubash the Hedonist, because you see, she’d say we’re all fucked anyway, so the pursuit of some pleasure before the inevitable crash and burn cannot be a bad thing. Mubash the Hedonist, on the other hand, despairs in this way of thinking. She prefers the company of the only member of the harem she could call a friend, Mubash the High-flyer. The latter is convinced she was meant for the finer things of life only, and hence gives the former much to enjoy at times. Their main conflict lies in the fact that the High-flyer will fight for all she believes she’s entitled to, while the Hedonist is much too chilled out for that; she’s happy to pass out on whatever easily available intoxicant she can lay her hands on at the time.

Unlike Shafak, I feel I’m missing an ambitious girl in my harem, there’s no one up to the task of leading a coup and initiating a military regime, no one to tell the others to buck up and do their jobs. My girls all laze, even their conflicts are the slow-burning type, they usually lead more to resentment than action. Who’s winning? We don’t always keep track, only Mubash the High-browed sometimes pays attention to the progress, as a research project she’s got a hypothesis on. The rest prefer to pretend the lack of harmony in our harem is only a temporary thing, not a cycle of oppression and suppression they’ve been in since their birth within me.

Like I said, my harem is less polarized than Shafak’s, my girls are ones who believed they could make their way together somehow. Only now are some of them being forced to wake up to the idea that maybe that was always just a comfortable lie.


Note: Mubash the High-browed made me write this essay. The rest are either worried about family members stumbling on it, judgement in general, or can’t figure out why I would waste my time on this while I could be watching Netflix in peace. So a disclaimer must be placed: while this is not a work of fiction, it is the thoughts of a growing person at a fixed point in time and may not reflect their views on same topics at other points in time.

P.S. I made a slightly crazy image to go with this piece. But I kind of love it.

11 Comments

  1. I love this Mubash! You’re so insightful! But I’d love for your friends/audience to also list down the Mubashes they know that you’ve not identified. I think that’d be interesting too!

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      1. Yes Omg – I was surprised to read you didn’t think there’s an ambitious Mubash because that’s the one I’ve known even before I knew you. More importantly, there’s the caring/big sister vibes Mubash – she’s the one who prioritises herself because she knows her self worth and that’s somehow simultaneously overlapped with the part of her which recognises the worth and potential in others that she knows must be amplified. ❤️ Love this, so well written. Prompting me to think differently as well.

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  2. ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT. You my queen are an inspiration to the rest of us. The mini mubashes (ones you’ve identified and the ones you’ve yet to identify) are doing a great job, thank you mini mubashes 💕

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