Book Review: The Sensational Life And Death Of Qandeel Baloch by Sanam Maher



ISBN 978-9386021946

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publishers: Aleph Book Company

Price: Rs. 599/-  ( I got the book for review from the publisher)
Behind the Book

‘Qandeel was a marvelous blaze. She set our dark world on fire and made enough light to expose the hypocrisies of Pakistan’s pious patriarchy. In Sanam Maher’s terrific and necessary book, those flames burn brighter than ever.’ —Bilal Tanweer ‘A powerful and deeply moving account from an important new voice in non-fiction.’ —Sonia Faleiro 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 marveled 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 behavior 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.

About the Author

Sanam Maher is a journalist based in Karachi. Her work has appeared in Al Jazeera, BuzzFeed, The Caravan, the British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound, Roads & Kingdoms and the New York Times’ Women in the World. This is her first book.

I have always been in awe of women who have become famous after becoming an internet sensation. Be it Kim Kardashion, Qandeel Baloch or closer home, Rakhi Sawant. Their antics have always made heads turn (not literally). They have managed to grab the limelight and rule it for sometime before the internet decided to crown the undisputed queen of viral content.

All seems to be hunky dory till the news of Qandeel Baloch's death comes into the picture. Or should I rightfully say, the news of her murder by her own brother or worse still, honour killing. Yes, that is exactly the reason she was killed. She was believed to have brought shame to her family because of her antics and her brother thought it to be right to kill her.

It is very difficult to write a book on something that has already been talked and written about so much. And yet, Sanam Maher does a stellar job of joining the pieces leading to her death to make a heart wrenching story. This story is not only about Qandeel Baloch, it is about us as women of South Asian countries, it is about our culture where a man has the right to decide what is right and what is wrong for us, it is about a society which has dual standards and lastly it is about us who are somewhere between being the victims and the culprits, not knowing what is when. I can never forget one honour killing case in Pakistan where the girl was killed for talking to her fiance. According to her father, she should not have done this before her marriage. Every time I think about this, it leaves me with goosebumps.

With powerful language and an engaging tone,the author dissects each of the elements considered to be responsible for her death. Her viral videos, the cleric from Multan, the cyber bulling, the victim shaming and how easy it is for someone to tag a girl a slut basis her choice of clothes and lifestyle, are some of the few things that are talked about in the book. I can easily say this book is an eye opener for many while for people like me, it is a grime reminder of how filthy the society around us has turned out to be.

The research done so brilliantly by the author reflects in each and every page. Her observations and notes, sometimes left me pondering at large. Overall, a superbly written book, strongly recommended and a must read for all out there. This will make you question a few things or perhaps answer a few of your questions.

Foodie Verdict

This book is like the Mawa Jalebi - sweet, crunchy with a texture that simply melts in your mouth! (P.S: Don't go by the looks... for both :))