Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won an Oscar. She held the golden figurine depicting a nude man and inspired all Pakistani women with a simple but powerful speech. If she could achieve so much, then so can they. If even one more achieves the same, then the debt of gratitude we owe her will be even more limitless (if limitlessness can be extended, oh you know what I mean). At the very least, someone has to do so before Maya Khan gets the Best Actress award she is so clearly rehearsing for.
But the symbolic power of a Pakistani woman, standing in front of the world and dwarfing a masculine depiction of greatness should not be understated at all. It is an achievement that is awe-inspiring. If you are a Pakistani woman, then know that despite all the efforts of all the men in this country to oppress you, one of your own kind persevered. She did it by showing the world that two Pakistani women who had their faces destroyed by two Pakistani men, also persevered and did not surrender to despair. So, thank you Sharmeen for giving us this gift. We hope we live up to the standard you are setting.
Of course, given that it is Pakistan and being thankless and cynical is our national pastime, many have also attempted to belittle her achievement. My advice is to slowly walk away from these people without making eye contact. Do not engage them in conversation. They have clearly suffered some kind of damage to the intelligence centres of their brain, possibly due to inhaling too much carbon monoxide and in-breeding. Just chalk it up to bitterness and an overblown sense of entitlement. These people think Sharmeen Obaid won the Oscar AT them.
If, for example, you were to able to make yourself heard over their shouts of ‘She made us look bad!’ and ‘What about a documentary of good things!’, what could you possibly say to change their minds? That by winning she made us look good? The stories of hope she portrayed are actually inspiring? That if they want a documentary of good things they can go make it themselves and Sharmeen is only beholden to her own decisions? The words would fall on their ears with all the effectiveness of Shoaib Akhtar ramming a car into a steel barricade.
To take joy in her achievement is something to cherish. It is a sign that we are not yet consumed by self-involvement and are still capable of empathy. One can be forgiven for thinking that is the case when you see the kind of complete disinterest in the recent Kohistan tragedy. As more Shia bodies pile up, the lack of shock and outrage is depressing. It is the same absence of disgust that has resulted in so many forgotten dead in Balochistan too. In the former case, the extremist killers act with impunity and abandon because they know that there just isn’t enough motivation in the authority forces to stop them. In the latter it is the authority that is responsible, so to expect any retribution would be ridiculous.
After all, we have yet to see any explanations from those same forces regarding the presence of Osama bin Laden, living as he did so comfortably in Abbottabad, close enough to the PMA to steal their wifi. Is it a coincidence that access to internet porn has been shut down only once Bin Laden, an avid porn consumer, is no longer with us? My feverishly conspiratorial brain thinks not. Although, if local residents get their way, the building of a girls school on top of the remains of his compound will be a fitting tombstone. It will once again show the kind of perseverance that makes Pakistani women such wonders.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2012.