The Sensational Life & Death of Qandeel Baloch by Sanam Meher: A fierce and bold account in non-fiction.

A new voice in the world of non-fiction, Sanam Maher, tackles themes of honor, violence and fame.

She rose to fame through her videos posted on various social media, often termed as vile, vulgar, and unislamic by those who kept a vigil at the online activities of anyone who didn’t conform. Qandeel Baloch soon started garnering a lot of attention, both nationally and internationally, and she was hated as much as admired for her courage to defy norms, and do what she pleased. Having been on the receiving end of exhaustive threats, and abuses, Qandeel feared for her life. She felt scared. She knew she didn’t have any support, and that her life would end. But no one knew it would be so soon.

In July 2016, Qandeel Baloch, Pakistan’s celebrity by social media was found dead in her house. Her brother, Mohammed Waseem, shamed by her ‘online presence’, and the attention she was getting, strangled her in their family home. He feels no remorse, no sorrow. He believes he has restored his family’s reputation and image. He smiles at the cameras while being interviewed,  often openly bragging about his murder scheme, not letting anyone take credit for his master-plan.  On being asked if he was ashamed, he remarks,’ No. I have no shame. I am Baloch.’  Qandeel’s parents, shocked and horrified, accused their sons of conspiring to murder their daughter and lodged an FIR.

The entire nation of Pakistan was suddenly turned upside down. Qandeel’s death sent shock waves across the country, and there was huge uproar against the bleak legislation that allowed the accused to roam freely after confessing to the murders, and their crime being waived off or forgiven by relatives of the suspect, mostly by accepting blood money as compensation. 6 days after Qandeel’s death the Anti-Honor Killing Bill was drafted and it was adopted unanimously by the Parliament within 3 months. The Criminal Law Amendment Act 2016 ensured life imprisonment as mandatory, unless a judge decided otherwise.

Sanam Maher’s bold account of life in a country which is deeply conservative of its beliefs, and values, and where a woman is not deemed worthy of living a life at her own accord is moving and powerful. Women have long been ostracized, pulled down, and threatened whenever they refuse to conform to a pre-existing patriarchal notion. Through a series of extensive research and interviews with aspiring models, activists, lawyers, police officers, journalists— Maher, has given a detailed narrative of Qandeel’s life. The author’s words flow seamlessly, and her ability to weave facts into a story has been brilliantly displayed.  Sanam’s efforts are commendable, her investigative journalism coupled with her ability as a writer make this debut novel unforgettable. The author’s work has appeared in Al Jazeera, BuzzFeed, The New York Times, to name a few.  Her honest attempt at exposing the hypocrisy and deep-rooted patriarchy, have opened gates for reflection, and debate, of a society whose morals are laced with blind-faith and dogmas, and hate for those who dare to defy.

The Sensational Life & Death of Qandeel Baloch is book that must be read.


Author: Sanam Maher

Publisher: Aleph Book Company

Rating: 4.8/5

Genre: Non-fiction

Pages: 224

Blurb:

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.
Qandeel first captured the nation’s attention on Pakistan Idol with a failed audition and tearful outburst. But it was in February 2016, when she uploaded a Facebook video mocking a presidential ‘warning’ not to celebrate Valentine’s Day, that she went ‘viral’. In the video, which racked up nearly a million views, she lies in bed, in a low-cut red dress, and says in broken English, ‘They can stop to people go out…but they can’t stop to people love.’ The video shows us everything that Pakistanis loved—and loved to hate—about Qandeel, ‘Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian’. Five months later, she would be dead. In July 2016, Qandeel’s brother would strangle her in their family home, in what was described as an ‘honour killing’—a punishment for the ‘shame’ her online behaviour had brought to the family.
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? And how did she come to represent the clash between rigid conservatism and a secular, liberal vision for Pakistan? Through dozens of interviews—with aspiring models, managers, university students, activists, lawyers, police officers and journalists, among them—Sanam Maher gives us a portrait of a woman and a nation.

 

How to Start Reading

A step by step guide to start reading.

The secret to reading or reading more is extremely simple:

You pick a book and READ. 

No, really. I can’t make this any easier.

I get asked a lot about my reading habits often by people who claim to have read only one book a year or people who can’t seem to get around reading because they usually fall asleep. It’s okay, no judgement there. But if you really want to cultivate a reading habit you have to be sincere about it.

Habits are formed when you continuously work at it. Much like going to the gym or eating healthy in order to lose weight. It is the sum total of everyday routines that you religiously follow. Although reading isn’t as strict.

Know why is it you want to read. Is it because you want a hobby or you want to improve your writing skills or is it because you want to do well on your SAT scores or CAT examinations. Whatever the reason, go forth with it as something that will improve your way of living, expand your horizon while getting your mind off of everyday worries. It’s not something you HAVE to do or you’re forced to do. Reading is a solitary experience but one that is comforting. It is a fun thing to do and besides book nerds are the coolest people you’ll meet.

For you to get into the habit of reading, remember you have to take out time to read. You might have your bookshelf stocked with every bestseller possible but if you don’t deliberately go out of your way to read, there’s not much that can be done..

So now that you want to read and are ready to spend time on it, here’s how you can start:

  • The beginning: Since you’re reading after a very long time or reading a novel for the first time, it is essential that you choose a book that is of your liking. If romance is your genre, go ahead. If you like reading fantasy, pick up a fantasy novel. If there’s a book you read as a child and loved it, why not read it again? As long as the story sparks your interest, you’re good to go. Remember to start with books that are not lengthy or complicated. Go for novels that are fast-paced yet easy to understand. If you don’t want to start with novels, you can always opt for short stories or Graphic novels to give you a kick-start.
  • Time management: Now that you’ve chosen the book of your choice, you need to decide what time suits you best. You can read 10 mins in the morning before going to school/college/work or while having breakfast  or maybe before going to bed. The idea is to read every day; doesn’t matter how long or how much.
  • Reading slump:  Most of the time even though the book that we’re reading has been our choice, we seem to struggle getting through it (also known as a reading slump). Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us. Pick up another book and give it another try. Or wait for a day or two and come back again to the previous book.
  • Prioritising: Sacrifice watching Tv or sleeping more than necessary or staying on your phone( everyone’s guilty of this).  This doesn’t mean that you should stop watching TV altogether but instead of binge watching 10 seasons, just watch 9. (See, I am making it as easy as I can). Most of the time, I don’t read for days and often times I binge read but it works for me.Here, I don’t mean sacrificing study time to finish a book or neglecting responsibilities but ensuring you squeeze in a little reading time in your busy schedule. As long as you continue reading, you’re good to go.
  • E-books: I’ve realised that I read faster on my phone. I don’t have any scientific explanation for this but I tend to analyse and read ten times faster to the point where my eyes start hurting and burning and I’m half blind (Don’t attempt this, it’s unhealthy). Anyway, the point is if you are like me, you can download books on your phone. This way instead of being on social media you can instead use your brain to soak in some literary knowledge.
  • Travel Companion: Try to carry a book with you everywhere. You might get labelled as a first class nerd but then you should own that label and read even more. On a serious note, it’s not physically possible to carry books at all times, but you’ll realise how much reading you can get done when you’re waiting in your car or bus or have an off period in school/college. For instance, when I was doing an internship, my office was almost on the other side of the city and it took me an hour and a half to get there. So in total, I always had 3 hours of pure idleness. I used to get a lot of reading done. Most days, I used to stare out into oblivion but on other days I used to read.
  • Find a reading buddy: If you know anyone who is an avid reader, join in a read-along with them. You two can read certain chapters together and discuss the plots or maybe invite other people to join in and create a book club. Having people around you with similar interests gives you the motivation you need. Alternately, if you can’t find a reader buddy, join online book clubs or book sites. For instance, Goodreads offers a host of reading suggestions, author reviews, quotes and reading challenges. Seeing people being so passionate about reading will give you the much needed boost. Befriend people, follow what they’re reading and enjoy the whole reading journey.
  • Audio-books: If you still can’t get into the reading habit which is again absolutely fine, you can try Audio books. They’re easier to read since all you have to do is plug in your headphones and listen to it while driving or doing household chores. (I haven’t tried it out as yet but from what I’ve researched, it’s a hit amongst readers and non-readers)

 

Following are some of the books you can start your reading career with (I made that sound so official):

  1. A Thousand Splendid Suns and Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  2. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Neven
  3. 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  4. Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom
  5. Those Pricey Thakur Girls by Anuja Chauhan
  6. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  7. The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska by John Green
  8. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
  9. On Two feet and Wings by Abbas Kazeerooni
  10. The Good Girl by Mary kubica
  11. Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

I have on purpose not mentioned any classics because I personally find them a little intimidating and also because I haven’t read much on the classic front. (I am working on it).

I hope the above tips were even remotely helpful and that reading won’t seem as tedious anymore.