Eid mubarik, readers all. As usual the last ten days of Ramzan seem to bring all kinds of difficult events—people pass on, accidents and grievous harm, that make each Eid also a time for serious reflection on the many blessings we enjoy. But it also had Momina Mustehsan, singer and celebrity, cooking a cake for a Dalda advertisement and people going nuts. Because of course you can go all-out loony when you don’t have anything better to do with your brain than watch a video of a young woman baking a cake, and then go totally ballistic online. Online jihad is so much fun. It makes you feel like your voice is being heard in the world, when it’s really just the comments section of a huge company’s Facebook page and nobody reads them, only my unfortunate gaze fell upon them and you know I can never resist.

Momina Mustehsan has become the object of much sneering and ire because people seem to think she is someone who would never set foot inside a kitchen, let alone know what brand of cooking oil is being used in her house; ergo it is disingenuous to have her bake a cake in an advertisement. She is famous, therefore must be rich, therefore utterly entitled and has no right to be shown smiling as she mixes up a chocolate cake with what seems to be deft enough hands. Obviously only authentic people can be in advertisements, people who cook For Real, not a pretty singer with nice hands that have never seen a chimta and bailan. All our wonderful commenters have never, obviously, seen Nigella Lawson in action in her enormous kitchen, piling things out of her walk-in pantry, whizzing up delicious things with her Kitchen Aid stand mixer (that costs more than an emerald ring from Farhat Ali Jewelers) and speaking in her plummy Rich British Woman accent. She is a bona fide cook. She cooks for her family, she writes cookbooks, she hosts television shows. But like Momina, she’s also quite decidedly Not Poor.

So where does that leave us? With a huge class complex. Ms. Mustehsan is not the problem, class is. The subtext of the jeering is that she seems to come from money, so what would she know about cooking, which is a job sublet to hired help by The Rich? Rich People know nothing about Real Life so it’s legitimate to assume that all Rich People are helpless ninnies who swan about shopping and eating cake all day long. A lot of wealthy people seem to live like that, but in a country as poor as Pakistan anyone who is reasonably well off is automatically lumped into the Rich People category as well, and treated with blanket disdain, which is often pretty undeserved. How on earth can anyone presume to know how another lives? What their values are? Someone may appear ‘modern’ and have such traditional values you’d be surprised. You can have hired help and still be hands-on in your house. You can be a famous person and still wash dishes or know how to cook. How does money automatically eject you from the realm of the authentic?

Let’s not forget that many, many people do exist in a comfortable vacuum provided by money. A lot of us aren’t sweltering in the heat because we have a functional UPS or a generator. There is food in the fridge, there is money to pay the electricity bill. There are new clothes for Eid. But there is every activist’s dilemma too: does having the means for a comfortable life automatically exclude you from the crowd? Does money mean you don’t belong to the majority? Does a particular kind of hardship or suffering ennoble you, and someone who hasn’t experienced it can never be seen as an ally? Can someone who has never gone to bed hungry not have empathy for someone who has? Can a singer not bake a cake, because she’s rich?

Class guilt is a constant issue to grapple with. Class condescension is another. Does Ms. Mustehsan have to give an interview detailing how she’s made breakfast for her family every day her entire life to justify her Dalda ad? It’s ludicrous to expect it, and yet here are so many people who are contemptuously dismissing an advertisement because of their perception of a person they don’t even know. If upper-middle class or elite people are condescending, it’s snobbery. What do you call reverse snobbery? Or are we all just raring for an opportunity to look down our noses at someone, no matter where you stand on the class scale? I remember once being told authoritatively by a girl I’d just met how “all the girls from X school drink and have boyfriends”. She didn’t go to X school, but I did, and nobody was drinking anything except Frost juice from the canteen and while some girls probably did have some special friends, we didn’t know any boys except our brothers and their annoying friends. C’est la vie!

 

The writer is a feminist based in Lahore.

m.malikhussain@gmail.com