Quratulain ‘Annie’ Ali Khan’s Sita Under the Crescent Moon is not an easy work to characterise: memoir, pilgrimage account, ethnography, auto-ethnography, poetic meditation on the lives of women and shrines across Sindh and Baluchistan, and an archive of stories otherwise untold. A tapestry of narratives, images, observations, histories, personal reflections and spiritual travelogue – a pilgrimage account by a female pilgrim of other female pilgrims and their stories and sacred – and not so sacred –spaces that they inhabit.
Khan was a computer engineer and journalist, well-known in Pakistan as a model frequently seen on television adverts and MTV videos. She became famous for her writing with her pathbreaking 2017 article, ‘The Missing Daughters of Pakistan,’ which investigated the stories behind a series of horrifying femicides that had taken place in the preceding years, published as the cover feature of Herald Magazine. Her stories for the travel website ‘Roads and Kingdoms’, especially ‘A Railway Pilgrimage in Pakistan’, published in 2015, and ‘A Hindu Pilgrimage in Pakistan’, published the following year, were evocative travelogues that drew profound but subtle connections across the range of her work. For instance, through references to the dismembered body of the Hindu goddess Sati (‘truthful’, ‘virtuous’), falling across South Asia to create a sacred geography including the pilgrimage site of Hinglaj in Baluchistan, which features in her articles as well as Sita Under the Crescent Moon.
Annie Ali Khan, Sita Under the Crescent Moon: A Woman’s Search for Faith in Pakistan, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2019.
Sita Under the Crescent Moon was the subject of many readings, events, and workshops when it was published in 2019 after a fire in her Karachi apartment led to her tragic death in 2018. The book is the fruit of Khan’s travels across the provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan to seek out the stories of women and their spiritual practices, their relationships and hopes and lives. These stories are weaved in a collection that both searches for Sita/Sati, the divine feminine in Pakistan’s landscape, and finds her in the many women she encounters along the way. The theme of the goddess Sati/Sita, women’s bodies and the sacral landscape was to become a recurring theme throughout Khan’s writings.