Lady Changez Khan

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The 4th Karachi Literature Festival was met with immense enthusiasm and excitement again this year on Friday, the 15th of February. It’s a great experience for not just the writers, but also an amazing platform for the emerging writers and book lovers alike. The literature lovers and fans welcomed the speakers and the talks with open arms.  From little kids to grandmas and grandpas, everybody was seen enjoying the festival with great passion and zeal.

The most interesting session, in my opinion, was the one where Zambeel did a dramatic reading of two of Urdu literature’s finest works called Nazara Darmiyaan Hai and Ghoongat by writers, Qurutulain Hyder and Ismat Chughtai respectively. The hall was packed from the front till the back. It seemed as if everybody had came to see the show. People stood at the back and sat on the floor, despite having no seats left. It was amazing to see that not only the adults were eager to see the show; many of the university and college-going students were quite eager in the session, too.

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The session started off with the introduction of the two best of the best writers of Urdu literature. The audience seemed gripped from the first word till the last. As many of you might know, Ismat Chughtai, who was bestowed the title ‘Lady Changez Khan,’ by Qurutulain Hyder in return gave her the nickname ‘Pom Pom Darling’. The audience loved the humor, judging by the constant applause and their genuine laughter. The traditional sound of the tabla and the sitar at the background literally brought back the feelings of being in the olden days. The atmosphere seemed serene and simple, yet very natural.

Both writers’ works seemed fascinating to me and I am sure that the audience shared the same sentiment. Many of you, like me, might have read Qurutulain Hyder’s Nazara Darmiyaan Hai as part of their O’Level Urdu syllabus. Listening to the story brought back old memories of the good ole’ school days, where Urdu was a mandatory course to take. However, this was the first time I heard about Ismat Chughtai’s Ghoonghat. Apart from the flourishing language and the humorous plot, what interested me was the way she had shown how our society objectifies the woman.

The short story is loosely set, in a period of 30 years, about the lives of Kalay Mian and Gori Bi, starting with their wedding day and their lives afterwards. Throughout the story, one cannot ignore the messages that come across. We are reminded of individual pride, attachment to false traditions and societal pressures that ultimately destroys the married couple’s lives. Ghoonghat, like other works by Chughtai, reveals the state of women in our society and the issues that they faced then and are still facing today.

Like mentioned in the short story through elderly characters, Chughtai reveals the establishment of a belief in our so backward society that a woman’s job is only to please her husband, obey his commands and fulfill his wishes no matter what happens. When Gori Bi disobeys her husband, Kalay Mian on their wedding night by not lifting her ghoonghat when asked to, she might as well have committed a crime. Kalay Mian was furious and he left his bride. When people told him to lift his bride’s ghoonghat himself, his ego became abnormally huge. And in retaliation he never consummated the marriage. And Gori Bi remained untouched, i.e. a virgin, after her wedding night and throughout.

The elder female characters in the short story repeat the duty of a woman to keep her husband fulfilled, satisfied and happy again and again as a mantra. It is something that even today, at this day and age, is thought of as true. Basically, Chughtai highlights the issue, that is, that our society has objectified the woman as being something that pleases her husband, is inferior to his dominant self, and ultimately becomes his puppet while he pulls the strings and rules their world.

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The controlling male gaze

Laura Mulvey, author of the essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, influenced by the works of Freud, is an important figure to the Feminist Film Theory Movement and has been of great influence since the mid-1970s. She explores in her essay how cinema is a voyeuristic platform that makes women the subject of the ‘male gaze’ and subject to the forms of the male-controlled society that has, for quite some time, ordered the way we see and perceive.

Nevertheless, the concept of selling sex has been around ever since TV, cinema and advertising progressed. Almost all of the fashion shoots and advertisements are based on the same concept of selling sex. There are so many wrongs with that, as one cannot refuse to acknowledge the unethical and immoral views it portrays. Ironically, one also cannot refuse that the concept of selling sex has been one of the strongest marketing implications in the Print media.

However, in her essay Mulvey argues that in classic Hollywood films, women were merely represented to provide visual pleasure to men, as the audience at that time was constructed in a manner where they were all expected to be men. This ‘male gaze’ is both voyeuristic and fetishistic, she says.

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Take the above image for example. This advert, like many others, portrays stereotypes of women. However, there are some ads that go beyond the line of what should be considered acceptable. This advert promotes the idea that women can be bought and sold, that women are sex objects and the female form can be dehumanized and still sell. This image shows the woman as a decorative piece- beautiful, poised, surreal- but this image also dehumanizes her. The woman is shown as a mannequin and promotes the idea that women can be bought.

Another disturbing image is this advertisement of Calvin Kleins jeans.

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This advert clearly exploits women’s sexuality, depicting women as sex objects and the subject of the ‘male gaze’. The dominating male models have surrounded the barely-clad woman, and while one leans down towards her, the other man holds a steady gaze at her, his expression seems as if he’s waiting for his turn to have a ‘go’ at her. This also explains the term, scopophilia, pleasure received through looking at other people’s bodies. With one look at the image, one can instantly tell that the men in this advertisement are enjoying looking at the woman’s barely-clad body.

The concept of the ‘male gaze’ can easily be applied in the above images. The male models have locked their gazes on the female model’s figures and bodies. They, along with any other man who will happen to look at the image, will think of the female model as a sexual object.

Mulvey also highlights in her essay that a man is subconsciously afraid of losing his genital organs, which sums up castration anxiety. For example, if a woman was not objectified the way she was in the classic Hollywood films, then the male would not have felt as powerful. The unconscious idea is that a male’s power and dominance over a female is through his genitals, and that a woman threatens his dominance if she does not arouse him.

This is not a Coke

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When we look at the picture shown above, what do we see? It looks like coke, the logo says so and the accompanying text does as well. Well, according to Foucault’s analysis of Magritte’s painting, this is NOT a Coke. How we came to this conclusion? It’s really not that hard to comprehend.

 

This is not a pipe. So says Rene Magritte’s iconic painting, The Treachery of Images. However, the meaning seems somewhat clear at first. The fact is, that this isn’t a real pipe, it’s an illustration or rather a representation of a pipe. This was an important movement in surrealistic art when Magritte pointed out the plain simple truth. Foucault believes that within modernity, people are misleadingly placed within an established system of seeing that associates reality with visual representation. He says that Magritte’s painting of a pipe, combined with the accompanying text “This is not a pipe,” calls into question visual representation itself, as what is painted on the canvas is not actually a pipe but a ‘depiction’ of a pipe.

 

Accordingly, the image shown above is not a Coke. It is a mere representation of a Coke. The accompanying text and the image are not a Coke but a representation or depiction of a Coke. Like Magritte said that one cannot stuff the pipe (in the painting) because it’s just a representation- not an actual pipe. He also said he’d be lying if he wrote that this IS a pipe. Same is the case here. We’d be lying if we say this really is Coke, when it’s just a sheer representation or rather an image of a Coke.