Before you get any ideas, this isn’t a rant about the trust issues you have developed because your domestic help asked for a 3-day leave but came back after 13 days. This is about the best show in the history of television and yes, I mean better than Game of Thrones too – excuse my heresy. We are speaking of The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s brutal and gruesome, and based on a speculative present with a dystopian government that has taken over The United States of America. How is that relevant to us, you might ask? I couldn’t help but draw a parallel between the Republic of Gilead (fictitious name for USA in the show) and how General Zia-ul-Haq envisioned our Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The gloomy costumes, the barbaric laws, the morality being twisted to serve some higher purpose (not that of God but of powerful men), the women being reduced to childbearing machines and completely excluded from the public sphere – this is the case, both on the show and in Zia’s vision a of holier-than-thou state.
This show has my heart on so many levels despite being gut-wrenchingly dark and unsettling.
Imagine a world where American citizens are treated as refugees. This show makes you empathise with refugees even more by depicting an ironic alternate reality. Think of the recent immigrant crisis and how refugee children were detained in camps without their parents. Now imagine the exact opposite of that: American citizens running away from tyrannical rule in their own country. It is no great secret that American governments have had a colourful past of meddling in the domestic affairs of other countries. In many a war-torn Middle-Eastern country, they have supported fanatic religious ideologies and brought established governments to ruins, only to restore the presumed balance of power.
One thing that I found exceptionally exciting about this show is the concept of fertility and how women are categorised solely based on these criteria: fruitfulness and barrenness. Fertility is a huge crisis in Gilead and the state has taken it upon itself to breed “fruitful” women in order to populate. That’s women’s only purpose in life. One of the commanders of Gilead points out that men let women get ahead of themselves by allowing women to pursue academic goals and professional ambitions. In Gilead, women are not allowed to read.
Apparently, reading plants frivolous ideas in our brains and that diverts us from embracing our biological destinies. The true purpose in life is to have children, and the rest men can take care of.
The gloomy costumes, the barbaric laws, the morality being twisted to serve some higher purpose (not that of God but of powerful men), the women being reduced to childbearing machines and completely excluded from the public sphere – this is the case, both on the show and in Zia’s vision a of holier-than-thou state
Now I know this is an unkind generalisation to make but I couldn’t help but wonder: isn’t this precisely what our society expects from every desi woman? You can be a successful doctor/engineer/professor/athlete and yet somehow society has a way of making you feel unaccomplished if you are not married or if you are not having children. Moreover, the onus of fertility is completely on women. In Gilead, it is strongly believed that a fertility crisis exists due to the sinfulness of women. One sane voice rightfully points out that such argument is merely conjecture and according to the advanced research, this problem is in fact originating with men. Good luck convincing a desi aunty of this!
The idea here is not to plug for The Handmaid’s Tale because the show doesn’t need any promotion; its 8 Emmy Awards speak for itself. But watching it sure paints a realistic picture of where women stand in our own society. Shows such as these are exactly what are referred to as mindful entertainment. The plot is exceptionally engaging yet serves as an epiphany in the mind-bogglingly delicate times we live in today. It will be viewers’ loss if they don’t watch this show, not vice versa. This is the extent to which I can vouch for it. Till then, I’ll be waiting for the next episode of The Handmaid’s Tale.