For someone like me who uses social media to a minimal degree, I knew almost nothing about Qandeel Baloch, a fact I’m not proud of anymore. A quick question around asking, ‘Who’s this Qandeel?’ and a colleague of mine shouts, “She’s that chick who promised a strip dance for Shahid Afridi if he wins the T20 World Cup against India.”
Little did I know that this impression would change dramatically and drastically after reading Sanam Maher’s The Sensational Life and Death of Qandeel Baloch. I also realised that perhaps it was this impression of Qandeel’s, moulded by the world as ‘Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian’, that led to the murder of the social media queen by her brother — in the name of ‘honour’.
After capturing ample attention on Pakistan Idol with a failed audition and tearful outburst, she held the baton of being the country’s first social media celebrity firmly by her coquettish ways of presenting herself on screen, her flashy green bikini top, the ‘How I’m looking’ bit in that fake American accent, and the very famous ‘protest’ video of her lying on a bed declaring how Pakistani government can stop Valentine’s Day celebrations but not love itself.
‘Why? What have I done? What should I feel shame for?’ Qandeel would ask this repeatedly when she received multiple abusive and derogatory comments on her Facebook and Twitter wall. Even people who claimed to be liberal called her a ‘bad woman’ for the way she decided to live. What they failed to see is that she was a woman who lived on her terms, a feminist in her own right.
The book follows the life of Fauzia Azeem, a young village girl, who reinvents herself as Qandeel Baloch. Her aim was to get famous and irrespective of how these videos were scorned for being ‘attention seeking’, the woman knew extremely well how to create ‘content that sparked conversation’. She did make a very valid argument to counter all this hate — Did I tell you to watch it? Go listen to a qawwali. If you’re so pious, why are you watching my videos?
Maher also explores these notions of shame and honour in an attempt to understand the extent of gender-based societal restrictions and the patriarchal crimes against woman’s autonomy. In 2016 alone, until the day of Qandeel’s murder, Pakistan recorded 326 honour killings. The situation is not very different in India, where a 2016 report stated an increase of 796 per cent in such crimes. That’s why, it wasn’t surprising to read that Qandeel’s brother Waseem owned up to his crime announcing, Girls are born only to stay at home and bring honour to the family. My sister never did that.
Apart from painting Qandeel’s portrait through the eyes of her close friends, the case investigators, the journalist who broke the news of her murder and the ‘Mufti Sahib’ she got into a scandal with, the book takes some vital digressions. It delves into this social media factory that ‘manufactures’ instant celebrities and the pressures which pinball around newfound celebritydom. Arshad Khan, the blue-eyed boy who gripped the world with his ‘brooding stare’ and ‘hot tea’, confesses in the book ‘how is everyone looking at my picture’ is beyond him. He just wants to provide for the family, like Qandeel had done for her parents until her death.
Maher’s way of writing is reportage style and her research is thorough and layered with eclectic perceptions. The cover of the book has Qandeel’s caricature against a red background with her big, dark eyes staring into your soul and encouraging you to break free from these farcical norms. What I liked most were the italics bits where Qandeel talked to the reader herself. Some excerpts sent shivers down my spine as I thought of her life in retrospect and the circumstances she had been through.
My only complaint is that the books gets repetitive at times, especially the bits with Mufti Qavi. The book is a clinical examination of Qandeel’s life with no bias whatsoever. However, I would have loved to hear more of Maher’s voice and opinion that peeks out in between all that information. Concluding, I would like to share a principle Qandeel lived by: I’m 99% sure you guys hate me. And I’m also 100% sure that meray joote ko bhi parwaa nahi hai.
Author: Sanam Maher
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Price: Rs 466