… is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict. But what are the do-gooders doing in a gossip glossy, asks Faiza Sultan Khan
FOR ALL the coverage it has received in Pakistan and in the international press, anyone might think Hello! Pakistan — neither Pakistan’s first glossy social magazine, nor Pakistan’s first international franchise — means something. That is the only possible explanation for the miasma of self-righteousness that rose to greet it from some quarters. As the situation in the country deteriorates, a spot of frivolity — like the publication of Hello! or the country’s numerous fashion weeks — is received within Pakistan in one of two ways, both of which induce murderous rage in your humble correspondent. It is either hailed as a triumph of progressiveness despite being limited to a fraction of a fraction of the elite who are already as progressive as they’re going to get or then greeted with outrage as an insult to the poor and the suffering.
Somehow, I suspect the beggar child feebly scratching at the car window is least concerned with whether one is sprawled in the backseat reading a lifestyle magazine or Das Kapital. Naturally, it is right to be appalled by the gaping chasm between rich and poor but do then remember it each time you dole out a half of your cleaning lady’s pay for a meal at a nice restaurant or switch on your air conditioner or plan a vacation or go to the hospital or buy bottled water; and not just at the publication of a magazine that merely showcases an aspect of society that exists and will continue to exist whether or not it’s chronicled by Hello!.
That said, turns out much of the pre-emptive scoffing directed at the advent of Hello! has been entirely justified. I’ve spent much of the past few years on the edge of my seat poised to take violent umbrage to the international media’s coverage of the Pakistani elites’, shall we say cultural activities, eternally (and disingenuously) juxtaposed with the Pakistan of the Taliban. In this instance, the foreign press has, against all odds, taken a relatively sophisticated approach, crediting the magazine with being one of the many Pakistans that co-exist. I suspect, what with Hello!’s pages intended as the stomping ground of millionaires, of pop and film stars, polo players and minor royals who shan’t ever ascend anything but a ski slope — even the most sensationalist journalist would feel a tad sheepish trying to seek out meaning in it. But never you mind, that mantle has been taken on by the magazine itself.
The publishers note reads: “It is unfortunate that, of late, Pakistan’s image has been dulled by the shadow of bad press.” Silly me, then, for naïvely thinking Pakistan was to blame for Pakistan’s image. The editor’s note continues in much the same vein, in fact, what Pakistan looks like from abroad forms the running theme of this premier issue. Now, call me shallow, but I buy Hello! for the gracious drawing rooms, and the antique chandeliers, for photos of the well-heeled on holiday, for details of their gratifyingly vulgar weddings. Instead, I get a cover story on Sean Penn speaking on humanitarian efforts in Badin, our sole Oscar winner (who speaks very well but has already been interviewed at great length) on what her documentary means to the country, designers Sana Safinaz commenting on the country’s perceived radical image, Vikram Seth and Shobhaa Dé on how much Indians and Pakistanis really love each other, and an interview of Spanish designer Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, who I believe earns a medal for Most Diplomatic Soundbyte of recent years, “I think it’s a wonderful country. And yes, it has problems, but then even in Spain we have problems”.
One can’t help but wonder what this is doing in a publication sold to Pakistanis in Pakistan who presumably form their opinion of the country by living in it. I’d wanted to resist the temptation of quoting Lionel Richie but when it comes to its target market one must ask, “Hello!, is it me you’re looking for?” I fear this is the editorial team’s attempt at making good on their threat of being a “socially responsible” publication as they’d stated in an earlier press release. God only knows why, when one requires them to be a great deal more sassy, ballsy and unapologetically decadent if they’re to put together the entertaining piece of fluff that is required of them.
Khan is editor-in-chief of The Life’s Too Short Literary Review.