For years, Zaya has delicately balanced his relationship with his Muslim faith and queer identity by keeping his genderqueer lover and manipulative mother apart. But when his mother ends up in the hospital on the same day his partner is leaving for pilgrimage, Zaya’s worlds come crashing in on each other, opening a space for traumatic memories to resurface.
Acha Bacha boldly explores the intersections between queerness, gender identity and Islamic culture in the Pakistani diaspora. It’s about the way we love, the way we are loved and what it takes to truly accept love.
About the authors
Bilal Baig (they/them) is a queer, trans-feminine, Muslim playwright and workshop facilitator. Bilal's first play, Acha Bacha, was co-produced by Theatre Passe Muraille and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and has been published by Playwrights Canada Press. Other written work in development includes Kainchee Lagaa, Kitne Saare Laloo Yahan Pey Hain, and I want that free mind! Bilal is a core team member at non-profits such as Story Planet and Rivers of Hope, where they develop and facilitate workshops for youth focused on creative writing and literacy (Story Planet) and anti-Islamophobia (Rivers of Hope). Bilal is the co-creator and lead of the CBC/HBO Max/Sienna Films television series, Sort Of.
Kama La Mackerel is a multi-disciplinary artist, educator, writer, cultural mediator, and literary translator who hails from Mauritius and now lives in Montreal. Their work is grounded in the exploration of justice, love, healing, decoloniality, and self- and collective empowerment. Kama's artistic practice spans across textile, visual, digital, poetic, and performative work, and is at once narrative and theoretical, at once personal and political.
Kama's work has been published both online and in print, including pieces in the Lambda Literary Award-winning anthology Glitter & Grit: Queer Performance from the Heels on Wheels Femme Galaxy (2015) and We Mark Your Memory: writings from descendants of indenture (2018). Their translation of Kai Cheng Thom's From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea was published in French by Éditions Dent-de-lion in spring 2019 and their co-translation of Vivek Shraya's I'm Afraid of Men was published in French by Éditions du remue-ménage in winter 2020.
Excerpt: Acha Bacha (by (author) Bilal Baig; introduction by Kama La Mackerel)
Zaya: Oh, hey, pretty woman. Hey . . .
Ma fully opens her eyes and slaps Zaya’s hand away.
Ma: Hey hey, ka bacha, salaam karne bul gaye?
Zaya: Oh my god, Ma, I was just saying hi.
Ma: Tho phir salaam karo.
Ma: Good. Walekum’assalaam.
Ma inspects Zaya.
Arey, yeh patiwi pant kyun pein rahey ho?
Ma touches the rips in Zaya’s jeans.
Zaya: It’s fashion, Ma. I love your outfit.
Ma: Shukriya. You look tired.
Zaya: Oh, thank you.
Ma: You are sleeping?
Zaya: Yes. Kind of. Look, I know you aren’t sleeping. You fell this morning way before you usually wake up. Are you okay? How’s your wrist?
Ma: Teekh hai.
Zaya: How did it happen? How did you fall?
Ma: Mera shawl floor pey tha.
Zaya: Why was your shawl on the floor?
Ma: Mujhe kaise patha?
Ma: Kya seriously? I don’t see it aur meh girgayi. Next time I open my eye meh yahan pey hoon. Since eight-thirty a.m.!!!
Zaya: Sorry . . . I got delayed getting here.
Ma: Kaise aayo?
Zaya: My friend drove me.
Zaya: Salim. The teacher? Remember? The one who would ask for your biryani recipe / every time—
Ma: Oh. Haan, haan.
Zaya: Yeah, they’re just—Salim’s just—we’ve got a lot of things to do today . . . So I actually can’t stay too long. I’m sorry.
Zaya: Well I need a ride back home.
Ma: Laila dey sakti hai.
Zaya: No, she can’t. I’m pretty sure she said she can’t get here for a few hours.
Ma: Tho phir wait karo. Mere saath.
Zaya: I can’t. I told you I’ve got things to do today.
Ma: Work hai?
Zaya: No, but I—
Ma: Tho phir kya?
Zaya: Well Salim’s leaving for a big trip tonight and—actually, Salim’s gonna do Umrah. With their mom.
Zaya: You know, Mecca. The pilgrimage thing?
Ma: Tum mujhe Umrah explain karo gey?
Zaya: No, sorry. Uh, so Salim needs to finish packing and buy a gift for their mom and I wanna help with that, so . . .
Ma: Uske paas koi aur friends nahi hai jo—
Zaya: Ma, I want to help.
Ma: Tho phir yahan kyun aayo?
Zaya: I want to see you. I just can’t stay too long.
Ma: Faida kya hai?
Zaya: Ma, come on, I’ll see you in two days for Eid.
Ma: Nahi nahi, tum jao. Agar tum jaana chathey hai tho jao, aur meh yahan akheli mar jaaongi. Teekh hai?
Zaya: Don’t say that. You’re not gonna die, Ma.
Ma: Tumko kaise patha?
Zaya: The nurse said you’re fine.
Ma: Nurse don’t know ke I have son who don’t care for me. Meh aisi mar jaaongi, I guarantee you!
Zaya: Ma, I do care about you—I do.
Ma: Good. Tho phir aaj mere saath gahar aao. Bas. Yeh done deal hai.
Ma: No more Ma Ma Ma! No, no!
Zaya can’t say anything. He checks his phone for a text from Salim. Nothing. He puts it away.
Zaya: Hey, so um, just this morning I started thinking about that masjid we used to go to, like twenty years ago. You remember it?
Ma: Kaun sa masjid?
Zaya: It was in the basement of a house. You sent Laila and me there every day after school for a couple of months or something.
Ma: Oh, haan haan.
Zaya: Do you—remember anything about it? Like, do you remember walking down the stairs and wasn’t the smaller prayer room on the—
Ma: Beta, why you are asking me? Mujhe nahi patha . . .
Zaya: But do you remember anything about it? Do you remember when the masjid closed down? The day after Eid that year?
Ma: Twenty year ago is so long time, kaise yeh umeed rakh saktey ho ke mujhe / yeh sab yaad ho ga?
Zaya: You remember the maulana saab at least, right?
Beat. Ma nods.
Okay, and his son Mubeen? Or, Farah auntie? Do you still keep in touch with any of the aunties?
Ma: Haan, hum . . . baat kartey hain.
Zaya: What about Naima auntie? She was always so loud, right? And remember her daughter Sadiya? Laila’s old friend?
Ma: Oh haan, Sadiya, very sweet girl. Acha ab bathao, tumhari biwi kahan hai?
Ma: Kab shaadi karo gey?
Zaya: I’m not talking about this.
Zaya checks his phone again.
Ma: Kyun nahi?
Zaya: I told you before, I’m not ready.
Ma: Kab ready ho gey? You are twenty-eight . . .
Zaya: So what?
Ma: Tho jab mein yahan se nik lungi, meh seedhi Pakistan jaongi aur tumhari pretty woman ko ley kar aaongi here. Bas.
Zaya: No, thank you.
Ma: No thank you ka bacha, tum kaun si type ki ladki pasand karte ho? Bathao na. Bathao na beta!!!
Zaya: Okay! Okay okay.
I like naughty girls, I guess.
Ma: Teekh hai. I find naughty girl for you. Mallika Sherawat jaisi.
Zaya: Great. I like Mallika.
Ma: Yeh joke nahi hai.
Zaya: I’m not joking either.
And when are you gonna get married?
Ma: Aise mat joke karna mere saath.
Zaya: No, I’m actually serious, Ma. I think you’re strong, and beautiful, and smart, and funny. And young.
Ma: Haan haan, meh yeh sab kuch hoon, aur bahot busy too.
Zaya: I can make your profile on shaadi.com.
Ma: Arey chup!
Zaya: Laila can take your photo when you get home.
Ma: Yeh nahi ho sakta hai. Meh busy hoon.
Zaya: Oh yeah? Doing what?
Ma: Meri pehli appointment afternoo—
Ma stops herself.
Zaya: Appointment? For what? Wait. For like cutting hair? Ma, we’ve talked about this. Laila and I can pay for stuff. You don’t have to be working.
Ma: Oh haan haan, bilkul bilkul. Eid two days mein hai, busy busy time of year for me, aur I don’t work? / Good idea, beta!
Zaya: Oh my god, just retire already!!
Ma: Mera kam important hai. All my client depend me. Meh koi retail shetail mein kam nahi karti hoon.
Zaya: Okay, just so we’re clear, I’m a store manager.
Ma: You fold clothes.
Ma: Ma, Ma, ka bacha, such nahi hai?
Zaya: We’re not talking about me. This is about you and it’s serious and I just don’t think you understand—