“I’ve been around, you know? There was a time I could see. And I have seen. Boys like these, younger than these, their arms torn out, their legs ripped off. But there isn’t nothin’ like the sight of an amputated spirit.”
– Lt. Col. Frank Slade, “Scent of a Woman”
The Exhibitionist was born out of rage and disappointment.
In 2012, XZBT founder Khadija Ejaz hit rock-bottom. She had just come out of New Delhi, India, after spending a year training in broadcast journalism at one of India’s leading media houses. She had even volunteered at a non-profit organisation as a film editor. Just a year earlier Khadija had turned thirty in the country where she had been born but had never lived outside of childhood summer vacations.
India has one of the largest populations of young people in the world, and Khadija, who longed to blend into the crowd in a country where everyone looked just like her, was excited about taking her talents to the country that had given her her language, her metaphors. She had grown up in the Middle East, attended university and worked in the United States, and had lived in Canada; she had even had books published in the US. Of course there would be room for people like her in India. Khadija had so much to give, and she wanted to give it all to her motherland.
But India almost dissolved Khadija away. She smothered her long-lost daughter with a rigid, hierarchical society; irrational beliefs; and crushing social discrimination – man against woman, adult against child, even employer against employee. The extent of the different strains of exploitation were soul-shattering to both witness and experience. What was the point of having so many young people, Khadija wondered, if they were all forced into mediocrity? What was the point of quantity over quality? India turned out to be the old woman who lived in a shoe – she had so many children that she didn’t know what to do.
Khadija chose to leave India because she realised that there was no room for her in her overcrowded motherland. She felt rejected and ashamed. Unwanted. India had taken from her but not given anything back, and she continued to mock her from across the seas.
Khadija had escaped India, but the memory of all the talented, energetic, and extremely frustrated young people she had left behind haunted her. Many of them had looked up to her and approached her for guidance on how to develop their creative skills. She had met aspiring writers, actors, photographers, filmmakers, all of whom were systematically getting consumed by an exploitative, unappreciative society. Mother India was feeding off of her young.
The memory of exploitative bullies in India, many of them in important positions in entertainment, journalism, politics, and business, led Khadija to create XZBT. She wanted to create a safe space for young, creative people all over the world where they could express themselves and connect with those who genuinely wanted to guide them. Talent needs to be nurtured. It needs to be protected. Fiercely. There is a whole world out there full of twisted, toxic people who quietly misguide and consume talent for insidious reasons. The Exhibitionist is a place where that will never happen.
Khadija Ejaz is an internationally published and translated poet and the author of several books. She was born in Lucknow, India, raised in Muscat, Oman, and has also lived in Toronto, Canada, and New Delhi, India. Khadija now lives in the United States, where she earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in information technology. She has also worked in broadcast journalism at New Delhi Television and dabbles in filmmaking and photography. For more about Khadija, visit her website at http://khadijaejaz.netfirms.com.