An elderly man once told me, never display your sufferings before the world. Never talk of your weakness and your struggle, for that would mean bowing your head and being at the mercy of another being. The world should see you only at your best—only your strength, your beauty, your victory. For the world scorns the weak, and follows the strong.

But I wonder, is that any way to live? A life of pretence — a façade, a phoney display, merely to rise in the eyes of the massive audience in this great spectator sport called life? That in truth is a life lived in the shadows; it is the sign of a person uncomfortable in their own skin, a person who hasn’t yet come to terms with what victory truly denotes. The stories of sorrow, suffering and violence, are the ones that need most to be told.

It is important for bleeding wounds and aching limbs to be out before the world, for scabs to be revealed and scars not be considered marks of shame. Stories involving personal tragedies, deaths, separation, violence, molestation — histories of blood and tears — are all the more important for they tell the world it is alright to be weak and vulnerable, they narrate how weakness can perhaps even lead to strength.

Stories of suffering are in truth stories of survival. They are stories of grit, of determination, of escape. Stories of growth and learning. Rather than being marks of weakness, narration of suffering is actually one of the deepest forms of strength, for it speaks of a person, an individual who went through hell and survived. And not just survived but was also courageous enough to embrace the truth of his/ her existence, to lay it bare before the world, quite in solidarity with others in the world and they suffering they encounter. These stories of struggle are actually beacons of hope — they empower those who read and hear them, make them believe in their own capacity for survival, the capacity for victory despite vulnerability.

The stories of countless global tragedies, devastating events in world history — mass murders, genocides, colonialism, world wars, the partition, the holocaust, the aftermath of the atom bomb—all tell us the lived experiences of people around the world. They make history a live pulsating entity, rather than lifeless pages in a textbook marked with bullet points. They bring to light the accounts of both sides in a clash — the victor as well as the vanquished; for the defeated need to tell their lived truth as much as the victorious.

Entirely contrary to this denoting the act of bowing your head or being at the mercy of another being, it denotes the act of holding your head high and saying—here is my scar from this battle I fought, and eventually won. It’s an act of pride in one’s struggles and vulnerabilities, admitting to being a human rather than a superhero—but a winner nevertheless. It says, look, this is what I went through — but I survived. Or sometimes — as it happens with true stories that don’t always have happy endings — sometimes you couldn’t survive. But you told your tale before you died—and it tells the world that despite having fallen, I fought valiantly to the last.

“If you don’t tell your story, someone else will.” You must own the truth of you before another lays claim to it, distorting it in ways that make it unrecognisable. And for that reason too, you must embrace your stark unvarnished truth, not gilt it and polish into an exhibit for other people to enjoy.


Zehra Naqvi