"For those watching “Zindagi Gulzar Hai”, it is a series far better than “Humsafar”. The drama is based on Umera Ahmed’s novel “Kya Zindagi Waqayi Gulzar Hai?” that is 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 and Mr. Darcy’s first encounter from Pride & Prejudice. However, the drama touches on many social issues prevalent in Pakistan today from male chauvinism to a hierarchical class structure amongst others.

Kashaf is an average looking, lower middle class girl and the eldest daughter of an educated woman who serves as principal in a government school day in and out to raise her three daughters. The mother is an extremely patient woman with a thankful attitude towards God and no bitterness in life despite having faced hardships when her husband leaves her to marry an uneducated woman, as she is unable to born a son. With the father never financially supporting the three daughters in favour of his other family, Kashaf vows to restore her mother’s lost pride and improve their financial situation by getting scholarship in a renowned university. But Kashaf’s character is not as simplistic as this. She has waited years in hope for a better tomorrow and ultimately given 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 nothing is ever going to change. Her dialogue is quite profound and telling of her character:

“behtar nahin ken 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, “Don’t eat all the Marshmallows…Yet” 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 and 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, wearing inappropriate clothes and coming home late regularly. Despite being raised in an elitist liberal family, Zaroon seems to have a conservative mindset and as the story develops we will witness how one’s better half could serve as a window to one’s fulfilment in life via reaching out to God. They’re both like ‘yin yang’ in a way.

My interest in the series is not the romantic story plot of the contrasting personalities. Instead I have been rather analytical of the subtle messages underlying which seems to be a gender bias at times and at other instances an attempt to generalise male chauvinism throughout the class structure of Pakistan. I fail to decipher if the author is actually promoting a stereotype or highlighting it so that we can eradicate it? On one hand you have a lower middle class family scenario where Kashaf’s father is opposing her education beyond bachelors and in co-education 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, the brother is also seen as legitimising his right to question his sister’s late night hangouts while he himself does the same. But everything boils down to them being men and their subjects being women.

Reading into Zaroon’s sisters and mothers 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 due to his looks and charm 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 detach ourselves from the simplistic and innocent looking Cinderella image. Thanks to Disney. I found it rather strange how even I have been able to justify Zaroon’s evident male chauvinism. In a contrast, we will witness the viewers empathising and sympathising with Kashaf’s demand for independence, perhaps because she is conservatively dressed.

After much thought I think 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 in Pakistan he belongs to or how educated he is. Most men would demand a stereotypical feminine role as a mother, sister, wife and daughter’ but as the liberation trend suggests, they would 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 vows for liberation in education and pursues a career on 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, that 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 and in contrast Kashaf’s demand is ‘intellectual’ rather than ‘materialistic’; although the aim is to justify women as equals.

So I was wrong, it is not because Zaroon is a heartthrob that we’re able to justify him, 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 i.e. through one’s ability to absorb pluralistic views.

So looking at this series with a positive lens, a change in perspective from men to view women as intellectual beings rather than mere objects of one’s pride and an acceptance on part of women that liberation doesn't mean we start comparing apples and pears, could lead to a state of equilibrium in the world of Mars and Venus."

By Sana Hameed Baba

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