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I am currently watching a Pakistani drama called Meri Zaat Zarra-E-Benishan. I can’t really define the title in just few words, but it generally means that my being, my personality and everything that I am is meaningless to the world and will leave no mark in the world.
It is the story about a woman named Saba, who is betrayed by everyone she loves and trusts and is then pushed into marriage with a widowed father of four, who is abusive to her. The family then forgets her. The tale begins in present times, and then goes into flashbacks to tell the viewers what happened with Saba and how she was destroyed by her family, immediate and extended, and her husbands.
At the beginning, the audience is shown that a woman named Saba is dead. Her daughter has come to a man named Arfeen Abbas’s house, because her mother told her to come here once she, the mother, died. Arfeen is shocked and saddened to hear the news of Saba’s death. He visits her home, he cradles her sandels lovingly, and puts rose petals on her grave. The viewer is left in no doubt that Arfeen loved Saba.
Over the next few episodes we see a romance begin to unfold between Haider, Arfeen’s son, and Sara, Saba’s daughter. Arfeen is gladdened by their closeness, and encourages them to marry. As the days go by, Saba learns more and more about her mother’s association with Arfeen and his family. She finds out that Arfeen was Saba’s cousin, part of her extended family. She knows that her mother has not connected with her own family in decades, yet, in death, she sends Sara to Arfeen. Sara tries to discover who Arfeen was to Saba. She begins to suspect her mother of infidelity (from what I’m remembering) and of betrayal of Sara’s father. She begins to think badly of her mother. And then one day, on a shopping trip for her wedding, Sara disappears. And Haider demands to know what the history was between Saba and the rest of the family and the drama goes into flashbacks.
In the 1970’s, Saba lived in Pakistan. We know that she has returned to Pakistan from England, where she has grown up and studied. Her extended family in Pakistan is overly conservative and thinks that she is a bad influence and shameless for wanting to continue her studies. She laughs too loud, she dares to come out onto her balcony to enjoy the night air, and she interacts with boys. The patriarch and the matriarch of the family (Arfeen’s parents and Saba’s aunt and uncle) dissuade Adil, her cousin, from asking for Saba’s hand in marriage by saying that she is a bad girl and not fit for good families (that was the gist of it). When Arfeen returns from America, he sees Saba and falls under her spell. He convinces her to marry him, with promises of letting her continue her studies.
Saba is young and innocent. She falls in love with Arfeen, and agrees to the marriage. At her Mayu (one of the many traditions of a traditional Pakistani wedding, where a bride goes into seclusion before her wedding day and wears yellow), Saba is found with Adil in Arfeen’s bedroom. Saba’s aunt, and mother-in-law, accuses her of infidelity with Adil. While Adil runs away, Saba is dragged out into the yard of her home and badly beaten by her father-in-law, and she is left there, bruised and broken. No one stops her uncle, and no one takes Saba’s side.
When Arfeen returns, he asks Saba what happened. She denies all accusations. When Arfeen’s mother swears on the holy book, saying that she saw Saba in illicit relations with a man, Saba is shocked. Knowing that it would do no good for her to defend her innocence anymore, she refuses to swear on the holy book when it is her turn. Arfeen, feeling betrayed, immediately divorces her in front of witnesses. At this ultimate betrayal, Saba’s eyes go blank and she stares up at God, wondering what just happened.
Throughout all of this, Saba has denied doing anything wrong. Her protests fall on deaf ears. She is sentenced and then punished for something she did not do. And there is no mercy shown.
Saba is married to a man twice her age, who is a widower and has four children. She is beaten on a daily basis. She is embarrassed and verbally abused. She is then kicked out in the middle of the night, pregnant, when her husband divorces her and accuses her of infidelity with another man. Arfeen returns to America, marries another woman, and finds out that his second marriage isn’t a bed of roses either. He realizes that he married a “modern” woman (here the drama goes with the cliché of the woman who has been raised in a foreign county, and has no concept of family, cannot be a good wife or mother, and does not value tradition), and eventually divorces her.
Arfeen’s two sisters suffer setbacks. One sister is divorced by her husband, and the other becomes a widow. When Arfeen’s mother finds out that she is dying from cancer, she finally confesses the truth. She admits to her husband, and then her son, that she sent Saba and her cousin (the other man) into a room, and then locked them in. She admits that she did not see them do anything. She admits that she lied, while placing her hand on the holy book. She admits that she was jealous of the hold Saba had over her son, and now only wants Saba’s forgiveness so that she may die in peace.
Everyone is thunderstruck by that news. One by one all go to Saba, asking for her forgiveness. At this point, she has gotten divorced and is working as a servant in another’s home. She forgives them all, but cannot forget. What we see is a woman that has been completely broken. Because she cannot forget, she cannot trust them ever again. Arfeen asks her to marry him again. She refuses, even though she still loves him. She knows that she will always love him, but she will not take another woman’s husband and she cannot trust him ever again.
And one day … Saba disappears. Arfeen never sees her again.
Back in present time, we learn that Sara, Saba’s daughter overheard the truth about the cruelties that were done to her mother, and she runs away. Now, she has decided that she will divorce Haider and live independently. She cannot forgive Arfeen and her family for what they did to her mother. Flashbacks show that even though Saba took care of all of her daughter’s needs, she was never emotional or “alive”. Sara always wondered about her mother’s past, about her father, but all of that was kept hidden from her. She feels like she is betraying her mother by accepting the family that gave her mother so much pain.
At the end, Haider finds her and persuades to come back home. She returns, and they live happily ever after. The last scene of the drama shows Arfeen sitting by Saba’s grave, mourning all that he has lost.
Faisal Qureshi does wonderful acting as Arfeen. He can beautifully convey the regret and grief of Arfeen Abbas. When he finds out about his mother’s betrayal and pulls his hand away from her grip, the viewer can see his profound shock at her confession. Samiya Mumtaz does a brilliant job as Saba. She conveys Saba’s innocence, her grief, her disbelief, and then the broken shell that Saba becomes in the end.
Veslam2009 has uploaded most of the episodes on YouTube. Other users have also uploaded the entire drama, but veslam2009’s uploads are subtitled. Watch them and let me know what you think about it.
The title song of this drama is beautifully apt for the story, and the pain in the lyrics comes through in the singer’s voice (the song is sung by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan). I’ve also translated the title song, but I didn’t learn Urdu in school, and my grasp of the language is not too great.
“Meri Zaat Zarra-E-Benishan”
(Who I am Means Nothing to this World)
Besides You who knows the state of my heart, My Lord?
Under your eyes, I suffered through hell.
How do I tell you the cruelties done to me?
Who will listen to my story?
There is no one with whom I can share my grief or my secrets.
What was false, became the truth,
But I didn’t say a word,
This solitude … this grief …
That is what defines my life.
Who I am means nothing to this world.
Sometimes, I wander in the lonely mornings.
Sometimes, I look out into the barren night.
Sometimes I awaken with teary eyes.
Sometimes I think on the past moments.
But there is a moment of hope,
The belief that I have in My Lord.
I’ve never complained of my sufferings,
I’ve never cried out loud in pain.
Who I am means nothing to this world.
What can I tell you?
What will I get out of it?
I should just earn the fruits of my patience [by staying quiet].
I should be able to cloak some of my memories.
I should get something for the pain I have suffered through.
I should make a place for pain in my heart,
I will get the one who was mine.
I hope my world always remains filled with happiness,
And what I believe becomes reality.
Who I am means nothing to this world.