FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Moderns, Models and Martyrs

If you believed the Indian media, then not only do Pakistani women possess cleavages and midriffs but their displaying these body parts is considered a fight against militancy.

“Bare shoulders, backless gowns and pouting models are wowing Pakistan’s glitterati as Karachi Fashion Week shows the world a different side of the Taliban-troubled nation,” said one report. Are there no other paradigms for us to understand modern Pakistan? Do we even want to?

There is talk about Islamic clothes as opposed to what was witnessed on the catwalk. This is an artificial comparison. Social dress codes vary for regular wear even in the couture capitals of the world like Paris, Milan and New York.

However, the Indian media saturated with tribal chiefs found an opportunity to perform a virtual bereavement ritual as fashionistas supposedly braved gunfire to strut on the ramp.

It is a patronising attitude quite forgetting that we have to deal with not only the rightwing moral police but also educational institutions that lay down rules. In Kolkata, for example, a college wanted its students to only wear sarees and not salwaar-kameezes; the elite St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai issued a diktat against short dresses.

We want to look at modern Pakistan as the West does – a materialistic opposition to fanaticism. None of these people are modern in the sense of being ideologically driven. We give prime time and front page space to wardrobe malfunction and there are psychological discussions on stress levels. It perhaps adds a similar dimension when we see our neighbour defying external stress.

A modern Pakistan is both a relief and a threat to India. It is a relief because there are mutual opportunities and mutual backscratching possibilities for fake blonde bluster to cover up real blonde moments. It is a threat because we need those bearded guys and burqa-clad women to make us feel good about our democracy. For those who constitute the upper layer of any society, democracy is the ability to walk the ramp – for charity, for theatrics, for flaunting money, for flaunting regenerated bodies, for flaunting redeemed self-esteem, for flaunting trophy hubbies. To belong to the jet set you need to walk the ramp.

Can such cocoons rebel against society? Take this headline: “Fashion takes a bow near Taliban hub in Pakistan”. Do we know what a hub is? And how close is Karachi to the hub? The show taking place under heavy security does not as a matter of course catapult it to the level of a valid protest. “And this is a way to tell the people who want our lives to stop that ‘No, we won’t let you.’” was one such voice that immediately echoed what the Indian media is happy about portraying.

A “mix of eastern and western inspirations” immediately makes us think of a little bit of Chanel infused with a touch of Sindh and the Louis Vuitton with Lahore. This is the muaah-muaah comfort level of the wannabes whose empathies come purely from performing a striptease. It is a battle of and for the botox and its accruing financial benefits. India has a huge market, but Pakistan’s elite can flash their Calvin Kleins just as well.

I can imagine our media chortling at the words of one expat Pakistani designer who said, “My muse is that quintessential modern woman who’s self-aware and knows what she wants. She’s ambitious and driven but isn’t afraid to flaunt her softer side in fear of contradicting that image. In fact, she embraces it.” Oh no, the power woman has those threads sewn into her mannequin frame and control over body means just not being able to exhale.

Why do these people assume that a woman in the tribal areas, if heard, might be unaware about what she wants? Is it not possible that her ambition is to not flaunt certain assets? The neo ‘cons’ transpose the victim of fanaticism against a peek preview of the houri from heaven and end up portraying extremism in two limited shades.

The positions are in place. Men have to take on the war against terror and women must do the phoney mommy of moderation act. Liberalism is the new poster girl and caters to market demands. No wonder it has degenerated to the level of the trivial.

Look beyond this current event and you will find that according to the Indian media the great Pakistani moderns are not the true dissenting voices, but the flavours of the season. Modern is Imran Khan coming out of a socialite’s pool in Mumbai like Ursula Andress, actress Meera covering half her face with shades and the other half with braggadocio, politicians and diplomats wearing suits, commentators talking in clipped accents punctuated with home-grown patois, activist cats crying over the spilt milk of peaceful resolutions to the conflict. And if someone can say “those Talibs” followed by a few choice cuss words, then they begin to epitomise nothing less than a quick-fix renaissance.

This is a composite list. If you notice, the arrivistes overtake the artistes. People who do street theatre, use art and dance as statement, who question the status quo are simply bypassed or seen as ranting mavens unless they are threatened. Then, they can take that great leap towards modernism. Intellectual shahadat – martyrdom – has good currency.

Interestingly, television and newspapers in India have buttressed the feudal class as spokespersons of such modernism. The idea is that a haveli may well be a hotbed of intrigue against the system when more often it is only a haven for hors d’oeuvres. On the rare occasion when a person of clear merit is propped up, then it is as per Western parameters. Abdul Sattar Edhi is not a mere do-gooder anymore but the ‘Mother Teresa of Pakistan’, and Mother T was a celebrity with an imported stamp.

It is this construct that makes us narrow-mindedly listen to our neighbour talk the robot walk. No wonder that we count among the great moderns former President Pervez Musharraf. The reason is simple: he has a dog.

FARZANA VERSEY is a Mumbai-based columnist and author of A Journey Interrupted: Being Indian in Pakistan, Harper Collins, India. She can be reached at kaaghaz.kalam@gmail.com

 

More articles by:

Farzana Versey can be reached at Cross Connections

June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
John Pilger
Bring Julian Assange Home
Conn Hallinan
The Spanish Labyrinth
Patrick Cockburn
Attacking Hodeidah is a Deliberate Act of Cruelty by the Trump Administration
Gary Leupp
Trump Gives Bibi Whatever He Wants
Thomas Knapp
Child Abductions: A Conversation It’s Hard to Believe We’re Even Having
Robert Fisk
I Spoke to Palestinians Who Still Hold the Keys to Homes They Fled Decades Ago – Many are Still Determined to Return
Steve Early
Requiem for a Steelworker: Mon Valley Memories of Oil Can Eddie
Jim Scheff
Protect Our National Forests From an Increase in Logging
Adam Parsons
Reclaiming the UN’s Radical Vision of Global Economic Justice
Dean Baker
Manufacturing Production Falls in May and No One Notices
Laura Flanders
Bottom-Up Wins in Virginia’s Primaries
Binoy Kampmark
The Anguish for Lost Buildings: Embers and Death at the Victoria Park Hotel
Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War
Charles Pierson
The Day the US Became an Empire
Jonathan Cook
How the Corporate Media Enslave Us to a World of Illusions
Ajamu Baraka
North Korea Issue is Not De-nuclearization But De-Colonization
Andrew Levine
Midterms Coming: Antinomy Ahead
Louisa Willcox
New Information on 2017 Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Deaths Should Nix Trophy Hunting in Core Habitat
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Singapore Fling
Ron Jacobs
What’s So Bad About Peace, Man?
Robert Hunziker
State of the Climate – It’s Alarming!
L. Michael Hager
Acts and Omissions: The NYT’s Flawed Coverage of the Gaza Protest
Dave Lindorff
However Tenuous and Whatever His Motives, Trump’s Summit Agreement with Kim is Praiseworthy
Robert Fantina
Palestine, the United Nations and the Right of Return
Brian Cloughley
Sabre-Rattling With Russia
Chris Wright
To Be or Not to Be? That’s the Question
David Rosen
Why Do Establishment Feminists Hate Sex Workers?
Victor Grossman
A Key Congress in Leipzig
John Eskow
“It’s All Kinderspiel!” Trump, MSNBC, and the 24/7 Horseshit Roundelay
Paul Buhle
The Russians are Coming!
Joyce Nelson
The NED’s Useful Idiots
Lindsay Koshgarian
Trump’s Giving Diplomacy a Chance. His Critics Should, Too
Louis Proyect
American Nativism: From the Chinese Exclusion Act to Trump
Stan Malinowitz
On the Elections in Colombia
Camilo Mejia
Open Letter to Amnesty International on Nicaragua From a Former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience
David Krieger
An Assessment of the Trump-Kim Singapore Summit
Jonah Raskin
Cannabis in California: a Report From Sacramento
Josh Hoxie
Just How Rich Are the Ultra Rich?
CJ Hopkins
Awaiting the Putin-Nazi Apocalypse
Mona Younis
We’re the Wealthiest Country on Earth, But Over 40 Percent of Us Live in or Near Poverty
Dean Baker
Not Everything Trump Says on Trade is Wrong
James Munson
Trading Places: the Other 1% and the .001% Who Won’t Save Them
Rivera Sun
Stop Crony Capitalism: Protect the Net!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail