Eras are defined by many varied things. And in the same way, their end can result from many different things too.

While one can associate the 1970s, 80s and 90s with so many different social and political images and voices that shaped the lives of people in Pakistan then, the demise of that period for most of us happened in an instant, with the death of one individual – Haseena Moin. 

Haseena Apa to those who knew her, was a woman whom many urban middleclass Pakistani females, especially those from Urdu-speaking families, looked up to, for she penned characters that they could easily identify with. Both the writer and her characters were the kind that most girls would dream about becoming, their lives were the kind that teenagers and young women wished for themselves.

Photo: Fahim Siddiqi/DAWN

Haseena Moin was empowered without being overpowering, and her female characters sought this empowerment without politicising the feminist cause or attempting to take down all social institutions. They were simple girls trying to follow their heart and live life to the fullest.

Yes, they faced obstacles and tragedies, they had their weak moments and tears, but they managed to keep smiling through the tears, making mistakes without giving up, and all the while keeping relationships and family ties their priority.

Photo courtesy: Zulfikar Ahmed – Shiekh

I feel the reason all heroines of Haseena Moin are so memorable and loved is the fact that they loved and valued family and relationships, not just the romantic one. The writer made sure that she showed her lead as a girl who refused to let circumstances supress her individuality and dreams, all the while keeping her relationships strong and intact. Her characters were rebels without turning outcasts. They fought for their rights in their own innocent, witty and stubborn ways, all the while maintaining their femininity and grace.

Yes, these were the differences between the kind of feminist heroines Haseena Moin penned and became popular for and what all the others have not been able to achieve. Most Pakistani writers define women as either victims or vamps, either adorned in a white dupatta or a black sari. They are unable to portray women in all the other shades that they are able to carry with strength and style.  

Because Haseena Apa was in real life all that she penned — an educated, urban, unmarried woman who found fulfilment and enjoyment in family, friends and her own achievements – she could easily translate that into her scripts, giving young girls positive influences to look up to.

Yes, there were some grey characters too, but they were not evil, much like what it is in real life. There were victims too, whom one felt sorry for, like Beena in Uncle Urfi, but they were not perpetually bitter or sad.

Photo courtesy: Zulfikar Ahmed – Shiekh

Haseena Moin stayed away from the gross and the gory, thankfully. She wrapped her message in humour and naïve mischievousness, which is why she managed to sail through without censorship during the turbulent Marshal Law days of the late 1970s and 80s. While most writers faced a ban, her plays brought the nation to a standstill during telecast.

With wit and grace, she managed what others could not with their will and defiance. Not that it means she was better than other stalwarts of her generation, just more popular and relatable.

Luckily, her peak was in the days before social media arrived to add toxicity to everything, especially discourse. One shudders to think of what treatment her plays would have received from the moral police on Twitter and other social media platforms, had they been telecast today.

Today, when everything and anything can be twisted and turned into a controversy, so many things in her plays and characters would have probably attracted the kind of language that was unthinkable to utter in her plays or in real life during the time they were aired.

The sadness that her loss brings also arrives with the realisation that the dignity, grace and values she brought to life on the screen and showed in real life, are not just missing on the screen these days, but also in our lives.

May her eternal rest be in peace!

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