If you believe in fate, you would ascribe unhappiness that abounds in people’s life to fate and nothing else. ‘They are fated to be unhappy, to be miserable’, you tell yourself. But if you are not such an absolute fatalist, you’d start wondering if it’s human beings themselves who bring unhappiness unto their lives.
When I think about them — Azhar Bhai, approaching 40, married two years back and now father of a son, Saira Aapa, his sister, a divorcee, in her early 40s and their ailing, widowed mother — I ask myself “Why have they always been such unhappy people?
They are not miserable in the material sense. Azhar Bhai is doing well. And they are living a moderately comfortable middle-class life with all its struggles and hassles.
But the three of them make a peculiar trio, a closed bond so cohesive yet so ambivalent as to border on psychosis. In case you think it’s just my strange way of looking at things, I can tell you other people who are close to this family — just as I am — think the same way.
So, whom shall I begin with? The mother, daughter or son?
I can’t say much about Bi Amma. I just have a few glimpses of her early life as told by my mother. Bi Amma was married to a widower with four children. How did she cope with her stepchildren I have no idea because my mother never talked about it as there was nothing unusual in it. Female mortality rate, I guess, was much higher in pre-Partition era and women dying in childbirth or of some disease was the order of the day. So was polygamy and divorce and remarriage, etc.
Neither do I remember Bi Amma’s husband as he died a tragic death in a road accident some twenty years ago. By that time Bi Amma’s three step-children were already married and raising their own families. So it was just the three of them — Bi Amma, and her own two children — that I know of.
In case you are wondering about her fourth step-child, he was very much there physically in the same house, a grown-up man. But his existence was shadowy. He never came into the picture. Living like a ghost, slipping in and out of the house. I had hardly seen the three of them talking to him, or about him. He was definitely an outsider. Not even on the periphery, but beyond that triangle.
Bi Amma is now old and frail and beset with many ailments. She doesn’t talk much. But earlier she was quite talkative. She had been religious but with age her religiosity has increased. A janamaaz and tasbeeh is always with her side and so is Pumlaan.
Bi Amma has been a shrewd woman. Everyone used to say about her: ‘Buhat taiz hain.’ When I recall family innuendos, intrigues and trivia I do think that she is one of those people who always see the dark side first in other people. She was quarrelsome, quick to retort and hurt others. She had an unforgiving nature. She was to some extent paranoiac. As if the whole world was against her, bent to make her miserable. She was highly beauty-conscious, colour-conscious, as she herself must have been a beauty in her heydays. She would often pass cutting remarks to mothers who had dark and ugly children. Her own children were very fair, like her, and pretty attractive.
She is changed now. She has mellowed with age. Perhaps she doesn’t have the strength to hurt any one now at this stage of her life. But why was she like that? Was it her nature, her temperament or was it her bitterness which had something to do with her life? Did she have a happy childhood? Her father was polygamous. And her early married life. Was it satisfying? I don’t know. But I do believe that events mould a person’s nature and temperament.
Bi Amma, I guess, is one of those people who take so much bitterness inside that it starts seeping through them. The unhappiness spills over on to other persons who come into their close vicinity. But of course they do it unwittingly. Otherwise who would make his or her own beloved miserable?