The contents of Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s film were known in some circles in Pakistan, though not widely enough to be common knowledge, and there was no celebration in this blighted land prior to her winning the Oscar. No one acknowledged the courage of Ms Obaid-Chinoy to talk about something we would rather not know. No one celebrated her mastery over the craft of film-making.
Then, word came from across the seas of this wonderful young woman winning that coveted award. An award from the government, it was suddenly decided, was very much in order. So lacking of finesse was the haste in announcing the local award that it was obvious the babus were goaded out of their sleep only because of the Oscar.
Imagine what would have happened if Obaid-Chinoy had not won the Oscar. Since we do not wish to acknowledge the darkness of our souls, she would have been hounded to the far side of hell for revealing our evil. Her documentary about victims of acid attacks would have been a ‘nefarious act to defame the country’. We kid ourselves, because the country is already infamous for the various forms of evil we practice.
Shortly after the Oscar was won, while most of us yahoos were celebrating Obaid-Chinoy’s feat –– because the West showed us the way –– there were murmurs from envious detractors. Why had she worked on some Western agenda to smear the good name of Pakistan, it was said. In the event of there having been no Oscar, I would have been surprised if the keepers of public morality and Pakistan’s honour (read: TV anchorpersons) hadn’t forced this brave and talented woman into exile for fear of her life.
Now that Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has the Oscar and some medal or the other from the now-awake government, what about Dr Mohammad Ali Jawad? This kindly-faced, bespectacled angel practices plastic surgery in London and comes out every summer to rebuild the faces of those unfortunate women who have suffered acid burns. He leaves a thriving practice in England and does this work in Pakistan free of charge.
Since he features in the documentary, why have we Pakistanis not celebrated his name together with Obaid-Chinoy’s? Will he have to be knighted first by the Queen of England for us to simply acknowledge, if not celebrate, his acts of kindness? Here, I must hasten to add that I hold no brief for the good doctor. He is not a relative and is a friend I have never met.
We are a peculiar people. We do not recognise our heroes and the great spirits who lighten up the dark landscape that Pakistan has become. Obaid-Chinoy forced us to look into our souls (the gareban of Urdu), albeit rather begrudgingly because we do not wish to acknowledge our own brutality. Dr Jawad brought the lives of so many victims as close to normalcy as was possible under the circumstances. Shame on us for singing our documentary maker’s name only after the Academy honoured her. And ever more shame on us for not even being aware of Dr Jawad.
For us, a hero is only an uneducated lout who plays cricket. No other sport matters, nor any achievement in any other field. If sports are our only producer of heroes, how many people know of Nazir Sabir, the first Pakistani to summit Mount Everest and the greatest alpinist the country has ever produced? How many know of the feats of Colonel Sher Khan or Ashraf Aman? Indeed, how many have ever heard of the pluck and perseverance of supermen like Little Karim, Rajab Shah and the countless others who have done wonders where no Pakistani television reporter has ever dared to be?
Shame on us, for we do not even know our heroes from the con artists among us.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2012.