call me

My mother sometimes relates to me the story of how, when I was very young, I colored a dog blue. She says that was when she knew that I was her creative child. From theatre acting to on screen acting to any creative projects I could get my hands on; creativity was my forte. My acting brought me great confidence and praise from friends and family, but as I left childhood behind and entered the ever complex shores of womanhood, I noticed the gazes, and the words, changed. Too much confidence, too much creative ambition was a terrible thing for a Pakistani woman’s reputation. Freedom was that most cardinal of sins.

Recently, I found my grandmother relating her grandchildren’s achievements to a fellow on the phone. All and sundry were mentioned except for myself; my so called achievements ushered in the possibility of the family’s good repute being compromised. What kind of family, I could hear her think, can allow its girls to go out and be seen on television? On the same day, a visit to a friend’s home was met with apologetic smiles upon mention of my recent acting pursuits. In hindsight it is all rather amusing; how easily people here are shocked by the liberties of one woman’s free will, if that free will should (God forbid) motivate the pursuit of a life that is different.

Soon after I had worked on a film project I found a class fellow eyeing me suspiciously during a conversation about men. I was branded, “over-experienced” when it came to the opposite sex, as though men and television could be instantly equated. As though a working environment for women anywhere is not overwhelmed with the male presence. As though being an actor, or an actress, was by definition an invitation for undignified musings. At the shoots, my experiences have been less than pleasant. The crews hired for helping the director of photography and handling camera equipment were not much different to my class mates at a well renowned university. Their consistent stares were mirrors into the perverse thoughts residing in their heads.

As my social life bloomed and I attended a greater number of theatre and arts related ventures, I found hypocrites all around me. While appreciating talents exhibited, they were absolutely unable to alter their stark beliefs on women performing before an audience, on women being artists and true to their passions and talents. The art inside a woman should be a limited thing; it should expire with age, simply become overwhelmed by the greater callings of motherhood, domestic life, and relationships. To negate that social expectation is akin to social failure. Beyond that, it matters little how successful (or happy) you are.

I have disappointed my parents; my father in particular, whom I am wonderfully close to and love the most. I was never officially reprimanded, and I recognize I am fortunate for it, but my mother warned me I was stepping into the web of a bad reputation which would never, she warned, yield any suitors.

The act of stereotyping extends far beyond the boundaries of this society. The seesaw is balanced between the East and West when it comes to pointing fingers at actresses. There are all sorts of people in all fields of life. Nobody asks as gravely what happens in every nook and cranny of the professional universe, inside billions of accountants’ offices, behind closed doors and late hours. Why give artists this dubious exclusivity? Society makes society. We just have to keep doing the best we can.