Taher Shah had been the butt of the Pakistani and Indian internet’s jokes for his music videos ever since his 2013 release of Eye to Eye. When I first discovered and started showing people Eye to Eye, I will admit it was for reasons related to mockery. Observing people’s reactions to him after his Angel video, as well as a specific aspect of the discomfort of the allistic during Eye to Eye, have brought me around to completely un-ironically thinking he actually is a beautiful and special person with a lot to teach.
Lesson the First: How Uncomfortable Eye Contact Can Be
This is likely more of a meta-lesson than anything Taher Shah intended to do, but it still helps.
Though autism varies in its manifestations from person to person, disliking and avoiding direct eye contact is a pretty classic and common trait. While this often reads as coldness and distance to allistic people, avoiding eye contact isn’t due to a lack of empathy or social awareness, but instead stems from a desire to avoid painful sensory overload. Before I knew I was autistic, I projected that perception onto myself: Because I hate eye contact, I must be cold and emotionless (which projection in turn led me to invalidate my own emotions).
Five years after identifying why I felt like an alien sent to earth to confuse and be confused by other people, things are very different. Both my spouse and my boyfriend are autistic, which helps a lot. In fact, just the other week, the former gentleman declared that, and I quote, “Eye contact is annoying and a waste of time.” After a good minute of laughing to the point of tears and breathlessness, I told him that the statement might be the most autistic thing he’d ever said. He speculated that the aforementioned honor might actually belong to the time he excitedly said to a friend “Oh look, a model train store!” and then was sorely disappointed by the fact that it was closed.
For all the silly banter about stereotypes, my laughter also expressed relief that I have someone around who understands how I feel about eye contact.
Taher Shah is not one of my partners, and I don’t know if he’s autistic, but the discomfort that allistic people feel when he gazes deeply into their eyes during certain parts of Eye to Eye is a teachable moment. I’ve watched them squirm, giggle, and/or look away when he does that soul-plumbing thing with his “spectrum eyes.”
If you are allistic, and the first 40 seconds or so of this video provoked any kind of awkward feelings or discomfort, imagine a life where that same weird feeling or set of feelings were provoked by any contact of any kind with anyone. It’s not necessarily that you loathe Taher Shah, you just feel weird, right? That is something somewhat approximating what any kind of eye contact feels like for many of us on the autism spectrum.
LESSON THE Second: Learning to Give Fewer Fucks
After I discovered Eye to Eye, I wanted to figure out what Taher Shah’s deal was. Was he joking? After watching him appear on a Pakistani TV show, where they thoroughly berated and attempted to humiliate him, I realized that not only is he serious, but people are reacting to him in the way that they react to earnest people they don’t think are attractive or talented or normal enough to self-produce music videos.
This impression was solidified when his newest single, Angel, came out, along with what he calls its “ideology” on his blog.
A lot of the oddity in his lyrics can be explained by a non-standard use of the English language as well as direct translation rather than interpretation of poetic Urdu.
One of the entries in a compilation of reactions to his video really struck me:
Taher shah is that rare specie who has completely omitted "log kia kahenge" from his life
— $ (@schiebass) April 8, 2016
Taher Shah doesn’t overly concern himself with “What will people say?” (“log kia kahenge”), that inquiry that plagues and controls so many of us Subcontinentals. The “people” in that question is a vague, overwhelming, large, oppressive, generalized, and/or sometimes fictionalized version of our communities, families, and countries. There is little to no logic other than “conform (at least when in public) or else!”
Taher Shah doesn’t care. He even got a fatwa against his song for allegedly blaspheming the Islamic concept of angels*, but he rocks on with his glorious mane of hair.
Taher Shah, you beautiful angel and literal visionary, may your sparkling eyes shine on.
* The fatwa video is in Urdu. Here is a rough translation, briefly summarized:
Allah has mandated that we have faith in angels. It is disbelief to mock or make up your own idea of what an angel is. Keep this in mind as we consider the viral social media video called Angel, in which a person is saying he is an angel and behaving in a very shameless manner. He also says that people are no longer necessary and everything will be done by angels.
Just as it is disbelief to shame the name of or make movies about the prophets of Allah, it is disbelief to do so with angels. To have a name like Taher Shah and still do these sorts of things is wrong. If the man doesn’t know he isn’t supposed to do things like this, and sincerely repents, that’s okay, and he should learn. However, if he doesn’t repent, then the Muslim community must not approve of him.
To listen to songs like this is haraam and can incite disbelief, and there is no Islamic merit for listening to any kinds of non-religious songs in the first place. There is punishment in the grave for making and watching videos like this.