Zindagi Gulzar hai: Liberating women in different ways
“Zindagi Gulzar Hai” is a series far better than any I have seen in a long time. The drama is based on Umera Ahmed’s novel “Zindagi Gulzar Hai?” - a story about the daily diaries of two polar opposites, Kashaf and Zaroon, who are first tied in the bond of hate, then love and finally matrimony.
At first, the meeting of Kashaf and Zaroon seems like a Pakistani adaptation of Elizabeth Bennet's and Mr Darcy’s first encounter from Pride and Prejudice. This, to any female, portrays irresistible on-screen chemistry, and one is smitten by the love story right away.
However, the drama touches upon many serious social issues - from male chauvinism to a hierarchical class structure - that lead one to think pragmatically.
Kashaf is an average looking, lower middle class girl, and the eldest daughter of an educated woman who serves as a principal in a government school in an attempt to raise her three daughters.
Her mother is an extremely patient woman who shows her appreciation to God throughout the drama. She also maintains an optimistic attitude towards life despite having faced many hardships after her husband abandons her for an uneducated woman simply because she is unable to have a son.
Kashaf vows to restore her mother’s lost pride and improve their financial situation by getting a scholarship in a renowned university. However, Kashaf’s character is not as simple as it appears. She has waited for years in hopes of a better tomorrow and she ultimately gives up.
I wouldn’t call her a pessimist but she is definitely a nihilist, waiting for each day of her life to fold and unfold as if nothing is ever going to change. Her dialogue is quite profound and telling of her character:
“Behtar nahin ke na phool na kaante maangein, bus kache raaste pe chalna seekh lein?”
(Isn’t it better that we desire neither roses nor thorns, but learn to walk on a barren field?)
Strangely she is neither an atheist nor agnostic but just believes God doesn’t pay attention to the struggling classes. But as they say, good things always come to those who wait.
While studying for her MBA, she meets Zaroon, her opposite, in terms of character and class. Zaroon is the son of a renowned industrialist and has never had to ask for anything in life. He has everything – looks, wealth, women – you name it!
Despite this, he is leading a somewhat unfulfilled life as he seems to be in search of self-awareness and fulfilment. Zaroon is a light-hearted optimist with a strong sense of competition.
His only problems in life are an elitist mother who neglects the family and a sister who seems out of sync with her expected duties towards her fiancé and family; she wears inappropriate clothes and comes home late regularly.
Despite being raised in an elitist liberal family, Zaroon seems to have a conservative mindset. As the story progresses we witness how one’s counterpart can serve as a window to one’s fulfilment in life.
They’re both like ‘yin yang’ in a way – better together!
My interest in the series, however, is not the romantic story plot of the contrasting personalities. Instead, I have been rather analytical of the subtle underlying messages that seem to portray a gender bias at times.
I fail to decipher if the producer is actually promoting this particular stereotype, or highlighting its importance so that we notice it and ultimately eradicate it.
On one hand, you have a lower middle class family scenario where Kashaf’s father is opposing his daughter's education beyond her degree in bachelors and is in favour of marriage to her cousin; and on the other you have Zaroon’s father challenging his daughter’s inappropriate dressing. More so, Zaroon is also seen as legitimising his right to question his sister’s late night hangouts while he does the same.
Everything boils down to them being men and their subjects being women.
Zaroon’s sister's and mother's challenging statements to authoritative male figures in the house, in isolation of their wealth and flamboyant outlook, would seem justified in a society of equals. Oddly, as a viewer however, everything coming from Zaroon, even the male chauvinistic comments made to his sister and best friend/ potential fiancé seem like the Ten Commandments. This may be due to his looks and charming personality while the dumb, blonde ostentatious, elitist image of the mother, sister and best friend/potential fiancé makes everything coming out of their mouth horribly wrong to the viewers.
Unfortunately, we still judge books by their covers and none of us have been able to dislike the simplistic and innocent looking Cinderella image of a girl - thanks to Disney.
We witness viewers empathising and sympathising with Kashaf’s demand for independence, perhaps because she is conservatively dressed, but opposing the mother and daughter as they embody the opposite!
After much thought, I got the subtle gist of the series.
Indeed, a Pakistani man will always be a man exerting his male authority and it doesn’t matter what class structure he belongs to or how educated he is.
Most men demand stereotypical feminine roles whether it is for a mother, sister, wife or daughter. However, as the liberation trend suggests, they are willing to diverge from these a little to accommodate the changing times.
In Zaroon’s and Kashaf’s situation, and in many cases these days, such chauvinism would lead to problems in marriage where a man seeks an intellectual partner. Even though Kashaf is conservatively dressed, she aspires liberation in education and wishes to pursue a career of her own. She demands independence, as do other women in the series. She is an intellectual and opinionated being, while at the same time she satisfies a certain 'Cinderella' image of simplicity and good values. Her struggles in a man’s worlds makes her the person she is today and that is reflected in her opinions and wish to take up a career; this is hard for Zaroon to digest.
In a similar fashion, the elitist women in the drama also demand independence but of a totally different kind. Their demands are based on luxuries, not needs.
The aim, I assume, is to gauge which level of independence should be allowed to the modern woman.
So I was wrong; it is not because Zaroon is a heartthrob that we’re able to justify his statements; it is because our definition of ‘liberation’ tends to be quite shallow, skewed and deluded at times. Perhaps men need to understand that women are equals as competitive intellectuals, and at the same time feminists need to pick their battles wisely.
The measure of liberation is not evidenced by ones outlook or social life. Instead true freedom of thought is achieved in isolation of material desires - through one’s ability to absorb pluralistic views.
So, looking at this series with a positive lens, a change in perspective is due.
For men to view women as intellectual equals rather than mere objects of one’s pride and also an acceptance from women that liberation doesn’t mean we start comparing apples and pears. This could lead to a state of equilibrium in the world of Mars and Venus.
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