Book: The Sensational Life & Death of Qandeel Baloch

Author: Sanam Maher

Publisher: Aleph Book Company

About

Bold’, ‘Shameless’, ‘Siren’ were just some of the (kinder) words used to describe Qandeel Baloch. She embraced these labels and played the coquette, yet dished out biting critiques of some of Pakistan’s most holy cows. Pakistanis snickered at her fake American accent, but marvelled at her gumption. She was the stuff of a hundred memes and Pakistan’s first celebrity-by-social media.

Scores of young women and men are killed in the name of honour every year in Pakistan. Many cases are never reported, and of the ones that are, murderers are often ‘forgiven’ by the surviving family members and do not face charges. However, just six days after Qandeel’s death, the Anti-Honour Killings Laws Bill was fast-tracked in parliament, and in October 2016, the loophole allowing families to pardon perpetrators of ‘honour killings’ was closed. What spurred the change? Was it the murder of Qandeel Baloch?

Review

Savour the trailer. The film is killed.

Take an intrepid young girl with stars in her eyes, place her in a repressive, regressive society steeped in religious obscurantism, take her daring and resoluteness to defy her odds and limitations, take the backlash of a fundamentalist society and an honour-insulted brother, take her unabashed use of social media to carve her own little place under the sun, take murder and what you have is a plot for more than a Shakespearean drama.

This is the real life story of Qandeel Baloch, Pakistan’s first ‘celebrity-by-social-media’, much derided and abused in her lifetime, sensitively told by Sanam Maher, a journalist based in Karachi. This is Maher’s debut book and it’s intelligently crafted. The book’s narrative style is conversational and steers away from being highbrow. This is an easy read and an important story in the context of what Qandeel represented: a clash of free, liberal values in a Pakistan yearning to be modern and unfettered and traditional forces rooted in conservatism and zealous protection of patriarchy.

Maher’s style is journalistic and she employs an almost documentary like rigour. She pieces together Qandeel’s story through numerous interviews with her friends and colleagues, parents, television anchors et al. She gleams through her social media posts and puts together an empathetic story that is highly readable and well-structured.

What was Qandeel’s fault? Did she cross the line? Who drew that line? Was she destined to die? Why did she have to die? Will her death make a difference to the social climate in Pakistan? The book attempts to delve into many such questions.

Qandeel was, after all, a simple girl who tried to outgrow the milieu she was born in. And she tried in the only way that was known to her: to draw attention to herself through the use of social media, to provoke and to rabble-rouse. In so many ways, she comes across as naïve and vulnerable. She wasn’t vicious, she didn’t mean to harm or hurt anybody and she was a wannabe christened as Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian. All she was trying to do was to add colour to her dull, otherwise obscure life. As Maher says in her book: “Qandeel’s every appearance, video, interview, tweet or Facebook post was her in character. She created a story about herself, part truth and part lies and exaggerations. The story allowed her to be whoever we wanted her to be. It allowed her to be whoever she wanted to be.” She should have been allowed to be. To exist, to live, to live free. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

Read this book. It’s the voice of a rebel and it needs to be heard, however dismal the times we may be living in. Her short life was just the trailer. Sadly, the film would remain incomplete.

(Pic Credits: hipinpakistan(dot)com)

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