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Maham Khan: Finding yourself

It’s not out of the ordinary to struggle to figure out what your passion is, what you want your career choice to be or what you want to excel at. But once in a while, you stumble across someone who, on the contrary, knows exactly what they want to do. And not only do they know what their passion is, they persistently pursue that passion, without a doubt in sight.

Meet Maham! She has stood by her passion for writing her whole life, and that’s really not an exaggeration. She is a writer, editor, researcher, poet, boss lady...basically an inspiration of all sorts! She always knew she wanted to be a writer without knowing what that really meant. She wrote simply because she loved to write. Being an introvert, writing gave her a medium to express herself. It gave her a sense of security; it became her identity. You wouldn't think she would have any inhibitions about following this passion. But something WAS missing. She saw people around her, friends and colleagues, exploring, diving into different things, navigating their unique paths, and discovering their passions. She too wished to connect the dots to reveal a picture unique to her, she wished to be on a self-discovery journey of her own! It’s surprising, isn’t it? While most of us crave clarity, she craved that uncertainty and process of discovery we all want to escape.

Turns out, Maham did have a lot of discoveries to make for herself.

‘Sometimes, seemingly insignificant events in your life end up having an inordinate impact on who you were always meant to be as a person. In my case, I remember the time I was in elementary school and cast in a play.
I was about 10 years old when I ‘auditioned’ to be in the school production of The Wizard of Oz. I simply lined up along with a bunch of other third and fourth graders, and was asked to make scary faces. We didn’t even know what roles we were up for, until the principal picked me and three other kids to be the Winkies. The Winkies are inherently good people, but they’re forced to do the Wicked Witch of the West’s bidding. I was basically picked because I was capable of some pretty bizarre facial expressions. All the other kids went on to become Munchkins (more on that later). We spent many hours after school for a few weeks, rehearsing with seniors who got the cool main parts of Dorothy, the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion.
The theatre production took cues from the Judy Garland adaptation and we the Winkies had our faces painted green. The night before the show, my mother pinned my thick hair into little curls all over my head–I spent many uncomfortable hours backstage having my hair yanked by other kids who fully believed I had a wig on. When it was time to go on stage, we emerged from the back of the auditorium, behind the Wicked Witch, slinking between rows of delighted parents and children, in our long black dresses with spiders and cobwebs painted on. I ripped the straw from the Scarecrow’s sleeves (“Remember, not too hard,” the actress whispered frantically, because I had definitely overdone it a few times in rehearsal). I pulled as many faces as I could, delighted I could get away with behaving like this in the spotlight.
But midway, before my second moment on-stage, I got to see the Munchkins. I hadn’t been able to watch their rehearsals, so this was my first time seeing what they had gotten up to. They had on cute little overalls and sang angelically–to top it all off, they had the sweetest little choreographed dance. I had missed out on all this fun stuff! Suddenly glum, I sat there next to the other Winkies, with my vibrant green face, the paint beginning to sink into lines on my cheeks, and my wild hair, and wondered what it was like to be soft. Then I waited for Dorothy to kill the Wicked Witch.
After it was all over, I queued up for the bathroom and rinsed my face. My parents were disappointed to see me dripping wet, with just smears of green on my chin. They had been hoping to take a picture. To my surprise, I later heard some kids talk enviously of the Winkies who everyone felt had stolen the show (well, not everyone–some definitely sniggered and thought we were too weird). Looking back, I don’t know if that small role in a school play revealed who I am, or pushed me in a certain direction. I wanted to be the Munchkin so badly for one very earnest moment, and I still do sometimes.
That evening revealed a very key aspect of who I was as a person, and I wasn't entirely comfortable with that. It cemented my identity as a slightly off-center child, and then later perhaps as the adult who would grow up to continue to love the arts and pursue writing when most other people were hoping to become doctors and engineers.
Somewhere inside me is that little kid who took delight in playing the scary role, who had to be reminded, even on stage, to tamp down the enthusiasm. I'm glad I never did. I still have my black costume in storage somewhere. And I know I always will.’

In a way, Maham’s struggle wasn't finding her passion...but finding herself in it! Knowing what she was passionate about was just the start of her journey. What kind of a writer did she want to be? What causes did she want to write about? What would her writing style be? And what would writing in a professional capacity entail? These were just some of the questions she needed to find answers to.

The amazing thing about Maham is that underneath her introverted and quiet demeanor (trying to say it's not that usual in the face extroverted energy which is synonymous with a go-getter attitude), is an abundance of courage, compassion, and relentless persistence to get what she wants. It is her earnest spirit that makes her so devoted to writing about causes that are very close to her heart. She is passionate about making literary arts sustainable in Pakistan which led her to start her own magazine Rupture. This venture was all about creating a community of writers and artists for the purpose of exchanging art. She was a woman on a mission who was convinced she could handle it all by herself, determined to make it a roaring success. She hadn’t anticipated she would get so overwhelmed with all the work it required and decided to take a step back to better prepare and equip herself to return to her vision of the magazine once she’s ready. She strongly believes that this isn’t a failure, it’s just that the timing wasn’t right. Today, working as co-editor at The Missing Slate, her small exposure to running her own magazine really prepared her for the challenges she is facing in this role.

Maham is also a very strong advocate for women. She is currently involved in a Research Project about women writers and editors to develop a guidebook for other women in leadership positions. This research project revolves around how these women editors have gotten to where they are today and the success and failures of magazines. Maham's role has required her to interview people from many different walks of life and meeting all these amazing people has also helped her learn so much about herself.


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