Diary of a Feminist: The Surprising Casualties of Catastrophe

When a marriage falls apart, who suffers? Either of the spouses, logically. The woman, most prob­ably. But there are times when logic fails in our peculiar social scenario.

When I saw Aapa lately, I was dumb struck. She looked like a ghost of her former self. From a plump, hefty woman she had been reduced to a skeleton. Dark circles had made her eyes sunk deep in her shriveled face. Her skin had broken into a rash and her body itched from eczema — a long suppressed ailment that re-surfaced with a ferocity.

Aapa, a middle-aged wo­man, is my aunt. Her life has been a struggle. So has every­body’s, you’d say. But hers is a different story.

Raised in a different region, different background, she came into our family when she got married to a distant uncle of mine who was a widower with a 13-year-old daughter. You’d be wonder­ing why she was married off to a widower. She was neither a widow nor a divorcee. She was a virgin.

It sounds rather crude but as it happened she wasn’t pretty. She was a Pathan but she didn’t have a golden skin with rosy cheeks and neither was her nose straight. She was dark-complexioned and thick-featured and suffered from eczema. And this, perhaps, de­clared her a spinster in her colour-conscious, beauty-conscious clan. So from Peshawar she was packed off to Karachi.

My uncle’s life underwent a steady change since the day he married her. From a one-roomed, dingily apartment, followed by successively ap­propriate accommodations, he moved to a 1000 sq yd lux­urious bungalow in city’s sub­urbs. He had started as a worker in textile industry and ended up as owner of a mill.

As they used to say in the olden days, my aunt brought lukshami though she didn’t bring any jahez except a good amount of linen with immacu­late kasheeda kari which she had stitched while spinning dreams of marriage.

A perfect home-maker, she ran household affairs with acumen and treated her step­daughter with care which made the people shut up on this sensitive issue and those who talked against her any way, did so rather vaguely.

She strove hard to be ac­cepted, to be treated as one of the family. She paid regular visits to relatives, invited them often and fulfilled all the customary requirements, formalities and unwritten codes of the family. At times she was termed ‘a show-off’ — a habit explained, with slight inward disdain and outward good, humour, as ‘one of the ways of her beradri’. She was finally accepted as ‘one of us’.

She bore two sons and two daughters.

Again as it happened, her step-daughter wasn’t a beauty and crossed thirty unmarried. Finally my aunt and uncle ar­ranged a match which the girl didn’t like because the boy wasn’t well off. But my aunt had good reason to believe in the boy’s future: “When your father married me he didn’t have much. Now by the Grace of God we have all the good things in life. Boys become ambitious after marriage.”

Many considered it a wise decision. Some thought it step-motherly. It turned out to be a difficult marriage but survived because my cousin was of a mature age.

Witnessing all this unhappiness of her step-daughter’s last-chance marriage, my aunt got panicky and married her own daughter off at 18!

Unfortunately, it turned out eyen a worse match. The boy was twice the girl’s age and of entirely a different temperament — strict, religi­ous, orthodox and a recluse while the girl was childish, mercurial, boisterous and had teenage interests — loud music, stylish clothes and out­ings. They hated each other. There was a separation after six months.

Now over a year has passed and the two families involved haven’t settled the matter or sought the divorce.

My 20-year-old cousin has quickly recuperated, looks re­lieved and happy and is bubbling with life as if she never went through a traumatic experience. She has a devil-may-care attitude. And the man, I heard, is think­ing of another marriage.

But my aunt is now a broken woman — body and soul in agony. She is suffering from a disease called daughter’s failed marriage!

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