Of all the misfortunes that befall women in our society I think the hardest is an idle husband. A husband who doesn’t work, doesn’t earn, doesn’t do home chores, and neither does he go away and leave the woman (and kids) alone. A woman stuck with such a husband is in a quandary.
An idle husband (nikthatto shauher) is not an uncommon phenomenon in our society. Women suffer in silence accepting their condition as fate. They know the treatment of this diseased situation is divorce. But they don’t want a divorce because of the stigma attached.
It’s usually after marriage that the woman finds out the stranger she is married to is really a strange man with an erratic work habit or no work habit at all! In the beginning she turns to her parents who provide economic support, embarrassed at the match they arranged for her. But it can’t be a life-time support. They know it. She knows it.
So she ends up earning herself. Feeding the children. Feeding the husband. Working outside. Toiling at home. Living and hating.
When I look at Khadeeja — plump, sad and solemn — who works as part-time housemaid I wonder why she didn’t kick her husband out. She walked out on him, instead. Leaving her belongings. Except the children.
She and her younger sister are married to two brothers who are lazy and dopey. I mean, literally. They take charas, beat their wives and children.
For a few years the sisters lived on the meager support from their parents and brother. But the brother didn’t like the idea of feeding two married sisters and a bunch of starving kids. There were frequent fights between him and the mother who took the daughters’ side.
So Khadeeja decided to wash dishes and earn her own bread. Her husband was furious at the idea! She left him.
Now both the sisters live in a rented room. Khadeeja goes out for work while her sister babysits all the children. They are afraid of only one thing: the children getting abducted by their fathers. They don’t want a divorce.
And Fatima astonishes me even more. A matriculate, she took up a clerical job. Earlier, she and her children survived on economic assistance from relatives. Her father is dead.
She not only toils at work but does everything at home, from cooking, laundering to paying bills and fetching the grocery. While her husband rests on a charpoy shouting at children, ordering her around during day and sexually harassing her at night.
She hates him. You can see it. “For goodness’ sake I don’t ask for a single penny from you. But leave this house from 9 to 5 at least,” she begs.
But he doesn’t budge an inch. Instead, he threatens, “I will divorce you and take the children with me.” It makes her heart sink. All those years how much she wanted to divorce him but never uttered the word.
Even I didn’t have the heart and never ever would have the heart to tell Fatima to take a divorce. When she tells me of her woes laughingly (she has an admirable sense of humour — how strange!), the word divorce is always at the tip of my tongue but I don’t hurl it at her.
Unsure of myself, of my understanding of the depth and range of human emotions, I keep quiet, wondering whether she might have a soft corner for the man – she bore his six children after all. Or perhaps she doesn’t want to rob her children of a father no matter how despicable he is.
And Sultana is even more remarkable. I would have never guessed seeing that demure, middle-aged lady, driving a red Datsun, working at a very good post in a government office that she has a lotus-eater of a husband!
It was only when I heard that she is packing off to the States with her teenage son that I asked “Has her husband got a job in the States?”
“Her husband?” laughed the lady’s younger sister, “And a job? They never go together.” I was bewildered, “Isn’t he going too?” “Do you think my sister is crazy to take that idler along with her? She had cared for him too long. Now she wants to retire. In peace. Away from him.”