Which of my readers have heard of the TV show, “Zindagi Gulzar Hai”?
A hip new serial made in Pakistan in 2012, it became an instant hit amongst overseas South Asian communities, debuting on a well-known channel called Hum TV. Subsequently, it was shown on Zee TV this year in 2014. The tale of a struggling girl called Kashaf and her family after abandonment by their father and her subsequent marriage to the wealthy Zaroon serves as a catalyst-and a backdrop-against dormant economic and social mores of South Asian/Pakistani culture.
What was interesting to note was the universal appeal of the two leading actors, Sanam Saeed and Fawad Afzal Khan — as they played their roles to brilliance. Never before had there been a TV series — South Asian in origin and made outside of India — so hugely popular amongst so many diverse South Asian communities.
And yet, watching the serial making a mark on its viewers made me cynical.
And hopeful all at the same time.
I must admit that I tend to be a bit sceptical when it comes to building cross-cultural alliances amongst fellow South Asians who do not belong to my country or are not Bengali; in other words, those who do not have a shared history with me or my kin.
Then again, I have been rejected many times based on how I look, dress, how rich or wealthy I am at a given moment, how rich or wealth(ier) my contender is, how powerful he or she is, how that person identifies according to their status and wealth to me, how I speak English and with what accent, how they feel cornered or intimidated by my abilities and skills and so forth.
To say that I would not be able to connect to someone just because they do not share the same passport as mine (or I theirs) would therefore be wrong.
Rather, to limit myself in that way would not only be erroneous, but lethal, for I would be depriving myself of new histories, of new shared experiences.
With that said, it would be interesting to see what kind of an impact Pakistani dramas make on the South Asian subcontinent in the years to come.
India at the moment, dominates cultural capital in South Asia as we speak.
With the advent of Pakistani serials such as Zindagi Gulzar Hai and Humsafar, will South Asian culture become not only more fluid and neo-liberal, but more of a mix of Urdu and Hindi as the dominant markers of identity?
Bangladeshi serials have not been able to make the same kind of impact on the global South Asian cultural fabric. Unlike Pakistani and Indian serials, we as Bangladeshis do not see our country and our lives represented as a model for other South Asian communities to emulate, perhaps because of the fact that our country is still known as an “under-developed, poor” country.
Despite the years of war and subjugation that we had to face at the hands of our South Asian neighbours of which reparations we will never receive…
We still have not made it.
It feels like crude justice here, that our country became the scapegoat for other countries who should have seen us as one and part of one unified identity.
And yet, they are the ones who win, and win again.
What was our fault, exactly? What did we do wrong to deserve such a punishment?
I guess we will never know.
But with India becoming stronger and more powerful each and every day, will there remain any distinct identity in the years in South Asia to come other than Indian and Hindustani, with the occasional blips of divergence which will be seen only in media?
It will be interesting, the years in the future for us to see.
Keeping our fingers crossed.
Nadia Chowdhury, an aspiring writer, is a graduate from York University, Canada.