Meera ji won me over, with her English and her heart!
As a child and a youngster, I barely knew that there was more to life than using your proficiency in English as a status symbol. I was born and raised in a family where the accuracy of your English was the most important value. After an exhausting and detailed process of school selection, I was put in a schooling system that charged my parents a monthly fee exceeding grocery and food expenses for the entire house.
The top family fact was repeated every other day for our benefit:
“Ammi holds a Masters degree in English Literature!”
Even around me, rich farmers wanted their offspring to rise above peers by deviating from their roots and becoming part of an English-language-complex that prevailed in the elite class. Many sold ancestral belongings just to have their sons and daughters grow up with an admirable command over this foreign language.
We grew up with a stiff and pompous attitude that stopped us from mingling with our ‘less equal’ relatives and neighbours. We mocked any grammatical error in a jiffy, believing that everyone who couldn’t communicate in English, as well as us, was inferior. Our anxiety about how good our English was turned into a shocking superiority complex. We were not just children. We represented a thin sliver of the Pakistani society: a faction that considered itself high above the rest, having disregarded our rich cultural heritage and roots in favour of proficiency in English.
When I look back at that time of my life, I feel empty. However, I learnt later that life had much more to offer.
When I entered a government university, I discovered girls with head scarves concealing oiled hair who had trouble interacting with pants-clad men as well as boys-aspiring-to-be-men, with spectacles hanging down their ears and pants climbing up their chest. In my self-imposed superiority complex, I hovered over them, exalted above them by means of my English vocabulary.
On picking ‘Film City’ as a thesis project despite my parents’ objection, I began a brand new stage of my life. I roamed around in dark corners of film studios, measuring each brick, exploring each nook and cranny.
On one such expedition, I came across the dusky, almond-eyed, petite Meera ji. She was clearly very important, surrounded by lots of people, present to support ‘madam’ in her shoot. One person held up a mirror for her reflection. Another offered a water bottle.
Meera had an air of importance about her. But I felt immune to all that. I laughed in my head, recalling all the mockery she faced for her English in the elitist bandwagon I belonged to. I texted my friends immediately to join me for a conference call that night, so that we could discuss her English and fall into fits of laughter.
My adventurous nature compelled me to cross the crowd and meet her. To my surprise, Meera singled me out as well, walking towards me before I could approach her. Perhaps she wanted to talk to someone who seemed unlike all the other people at Evernew Studios.
She began with:
“Ohh… you student? I knows.”
I was already laughing in my head.
“I has sister of you age. This place is no good for girls. I work, I knows. Men bad. They see you bad. Next time, call me before you comes here. I help. Take my number.”
My surprise had now turned into shock.
I had never expected to find such kindness and empathy in the words of a celebrity I had grown up making fun of for her poor English.
She was still smiling emptily, tossing her ringlets. I looked into her eyes. She kept moving her gaze away deliberately. I wanted to say many things but a shivering ‘thank you’ was all I could manage. She smiled again and I caught her eyes. They seemed empty and sad to me.
I felt small and embarrassed at her kind, sisterly words. I turned to leave.
Meera called out:
“Hello girl, come back.”
“Jee, Meera ji?”
“Next time, wear big dupatta. I work. I knows. Men bad. They see you bad.”
She was teary this time and so was I. My reasons, however, were different. I was touched that an actress I looked down upon without knowing her personality and work could extend me a helpful hand. I felt like a different human being, one with little desire to exalt herself or see others as inferior.
It is not grammatical errors or poor vocabulary of our celebrities that deserves to be looked down upon – it is our own disrespectful attitude towards celebrities who represent us.
From cracking up at cricketers’ broken English at award ceremonies to sharing Meera’s interviews on Facebook for likes, we make our celebrities’ weaknesses a concern, instead of their talent. Even our Twitterati leaves no stone unturned in hyping up Meera’s poor English for their entertainment.
@rafiamkhan Flight Attendant to Meera : are you sick and suffering from fever? Meera : no I'm muslim and saffering from Lahore!— Taha A. Wyne (@tahawyne) April 3, 2013
Why don’t we pay more attention to their stories of strength and success? Why not emphasise their resilience, rising from humble backgrounds to fame? Is all of that less significant than how well they speak a language?
My head is drooped in shame. I still feel guilty.