Girls With Earrings (جھمکےاُتارے جاتے ہیں)

Girl with a Pearl Earring is a historical novel set in 17th-century Holland. It’s a fictional account of the model and the painting done by a local painter. Novelist Tracy Chevalier’s inspiration for the novel was a poster of painter Johannes Vermeer’s artwork Girl with a Pearl Earring.

The plot of the novel focuses on sixteen-year-old Griet who has to leave her family home after her father meets with an accident. She finds a job as a maid in painter Johannes Vermeer’s household. In the strictly stratified society of the time, this is a fall in her status because of the bad reputation maids have for stealing, spying and sleeping with their employers.

Girl with a Pearl Earring oil painting depicts a European girl wearing an exotic dress, an oriental turban, and a very large pearl as an earring. The dark background, today somewhat mottled, was originally a deep enamel-like green. The painting has been the subject of various literary and cinematic treatments. In May 2020, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a new dramatization of the novel.

During the early months of her work at the Vermeers’, the son of the family butcher at the meat market starts courting Griet. She has been strictly brought up and does not welcome this at first, but tolerates his interest. She is also warned by a friend of Vermeer not to get too close to the artist.

Vermeer’s wealthy but licentious patron, Pieter van Ruijven, notices “the wide-eyed maid”, molests her when he can and pressures Vermeer to paint them together, as he had with an earlier maid that Ruijven had then made pregnant. For the painting, Griet is forced to pierce her ears and wear the pearl earrings of Ruijven’s wife without her permission. In the resulting scandal, Vermeer remains silent, and Griet is forced to leave.

Sadat Hasan Manto’s short story ‘Jhumke’ (!946) was the first in the sub-continent — as British colonialism was dunking into the cup of scalding new world order — to raise awareness of living beyond means. Years later, the infant Pakistani film industry cinematized Manto’s profound narrative as ‘Badnam’. The film drew huge audience but narrow attention. Over the years, ‘living beyond means’, was a horse-rider in jeans as in the Western movies. The optic was mesmerizing! Manto’s message was ignored amid sense of urgency to have an economic rallying cry with or without means:

Curated by Irshad Salim, Islamabad