Dear Shaista Wahidi,
Today, I had the good (mis)fortune of catching you on your popular morning show ‘Utho Jaago Pakistan’ on a private entertainment channel. For someone who claims to be a doctor and possess a modicum of intelligence, your absolute lack of the latter coupled with your appalling sense of style was somewhat surprising to me. The subject under discussion on your show was (…wait for it) ‘maasis’ – maids if you will – or the kaam walis who come to our houses every day to dust, clean, mop, sweep and, if we’re really lucky, sometimes cook as well. The show, supposedly, was a ‘tribute’ to the efforts that these women put into our homes. Instead, it turned out to be a strange, confounding mix of political incorrectness and distaste. Where do I begin, really? Perhaps your choice of wardrobe that was supposed to be an apt representation of the kaam walis with colours ranging from orange to pink and, let us not forget, laced with intricate, expensive embroidery. Or the fact that you chose to wear your eye make-up ’70s style or the painfully obvious (read HUGE) gold nose ring that kaam walis wear all the time.
But this is television and if you want jaw-dropping ratings, then you have to glam it up. So I’m willing to let go of your wardrobe malfunction because, after all, there is no business like show business. What I do have a problem with, however, is the mockery that you chose to make out of the women you were paying homage to. Talking in a distinct Punjabi drawl and acting out your blonde fantasies during the kaam wali ‘role-playing’ that you were engaged in, is not funny. It’s offensive.
Playing coyly with your dupatta and saying things like ‘meri dooty (duty) hai abhi’ does not mean you have a good sense of humour nor is it saluting the effort put in by that particular category of labourers. It just means you are having a few laughs at the expense of a large, underprivileged section of the society – and being politically incorrect. Interspersing the mindless banter conversation that you were having with your guests about the need for a ‘mohalla committee’ spearheaded by your friendly neighbourhood aunties to safeguard the rights of the maids does not mean you’re being profound. If anything, it serves as a flimsy cover-up for your otherwise irreverent take on the subject of maids and the problems that they are faced with. Worse still, is the fact that you invited a maid as a guest on your show and talked about how ‘her kind’ was prone to theft and gossiping, and are inclined to switch jobs/loyalties for a mere 500-rupee increase in their salary. Your condescension and ability to make fun of someone who’s already at the receiving is astounding to me. You are supposed to be a role model, Ms Wahidi – the queen of morning television, as they say. Countless women watch you with breathless anticipation every morning hoping to imbibe your pearls of wisdom into their lives in some way. At least throw them a bone, if not a potential gemstone. And, if you don’t have anything meaningful to say, then please don’t say anything at all.
Samina Wahid Perozani is a freelance journalist.