I rarely put forth my thoughts on the backward traditions and conservatism of traditional South Asian/Pakistani
patriarchal societies simply because I try to make this space a positive one. But in truth, a facet to positive change is through a healthy form of discussion by acknowledging the problems that prevail and by actively looking for solutions. I am aware that that requires a certain level of humbleness and open mindedness, which unfortunately many people lack, either because of an ego problem or a prejudiced mind.
I recently heard Afreen Afreen, a Coke Studio Pakistan song that has received critical acclaim for several reasons. There are many who dislike it as well, because they are comparing it to the original song which is ridiculous since that isn’t even the aim of the show in the first place; it instead revives classics and brings them in a new light. I personally absolutely love this version. I think Momina Mustehsan did a fantastic job alongside Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, despite being a debutante, the lack of rehearsals and a bad throat.
For my non-desi readers, Coke Studio is akin to religion in Pakistan. Momina has been in the limelight all the more due to her appearance on the show, despite already having made brief stints in the Pakistani music industry. And rightly so – she sung brilliantly.
But as it turns out, not everyone cares. They’re not praising or disliking her musical prowess. There are a greater number of comments being made about the fact that she’s doing her studies in New York, and that is coming only second to her looks – which is apparently the most that she has to offer. She is undoubtedly beautiful, but not many know that she actually has a double major and is both an engineer and mathematician. Even few care that she will soon go to grad school for industrial engineering.
My problem is – why does society like to dumb a woman down? Why are these accomplishments dimmed and not given as much importance? There’s more to a woman than her beauty and musical talent. But society chooses to look at that, or the fact that the Mustehsan sibling clan are very good looking – instead of celebrating her intellect.
I think people really need to see past the superficial and see if a woman – or even a man, to be honest – can hold an intellectually stimulating conversation. It is in no way “cute” to not have any knowledge, to not have basic survival skills, to not be interested in learning and growing further, and to just give off compliments on how great someone’s hair looks. (True story: Kareena Kapoor said the best compliment she ever received from her husband was that despite being overweight in one of her song shoots, her hair looked great. That is disturbing on so many levels, but I’ll leave it at that).
Momina’s fierce pursuit of her passions, however different they may be from each other, should be celebrated. She doesn’t require any approval or judgement solely for her looks and one popular song.
I digress slightly, but this is prevalent in South Asian culture even in the marriage scenario. People are so shallow and have a prerequisite of things they would want in a spouse regarding things like lineage, the size of the house, their wealth and the renowned university degree that he/she holds. But what about someone’s personality? Their knowledge? Their mental + emotional intelligence? Whether they are opinionated or not? Whether they will be mature enough to learn, accept, and grow with their spouse?
Regardless of gender, I’ll guarantee you, if you take the time to know someone’s mind – what interests them, their dreams, likes, dislikes and beyond – like, what they think of the current economic situation, what are their thoughts on the world: be it Brexit, the modernisation of Pakistani fashion industry, the commercialism of the entertainment industry, global warming – whatever it is, that is much more appealing. You uncover more about a person that way, and you show that you’re interested in them beyond their naturally good looking face.
At the same time, it’s important to have the strength to agree to disagree. It’s okay to admit you don’t know about something and learn more from someone. It’s okay to have different opinions and interests – but the key is to accept everything with an open mind and heart. Tolerance sometimes seems to be a long-forgotten practise. Learn from each other, and dont belittle someone for the choices they make.
There’s an intelligence in that, too.