At The Height Of Karachi’s Monsoon, in August 2010, Nida Shams waded through traffic and heavy rains to reach the city’s women’s jail. Passing through the compound’s massive and grisly gates, she returned to the prison day after day for an entire month to meet with inmates. Shams would chat with the women, hear about their lives before they were locked up, and in a workshop, teach them to draw comics.
The women, from young to old, lived difficult lives, away from their families for months, sometimes for years. It took time for them to open up, but once they did, stories flowed out on sheets of paper, a different one from each woman. Uzma had been anxiously awaiting a visitor for nearly two years. To Sadaf, the prison was like a “graveyard of living people”. Muskaan, a young girl, rejoiced at her daily trip to school—it was her chance to see the outside world.
Shams, an artist and graphic designer by training, was helping these women record their experiences in comic form. If their stories ended without a resolution, she encouraged them to imagine scenarios that could lead to some sense of closure. As a culmination to the workshop, Shams organised an exhibition inside the jail of their work, and recently published a compilation of the four-panelled comics titled Salakhonkepeechekuchkahaniyanrehtihai (There live a few stories behind the bars). During a recent visit to India to meet extended family, she spoke about the beginnings of her project at the office of the World Comics Network’s (WCN) India chapter in Mayur Vihar, Delhi.