Sometimes I wonder why most of the suffering humans I come across happen to be women. Perhaps I look at the world with a tinted glass, with a feminist hue. Which makes women substantial, of flesh and blood, anchored in the centre of my visual span. While men, papery, ghost-like, float at the periphery.
Is my perception selective? Might be. But I don’t understand this process of selectivity. It is in my genes which make me perceive, make me feel so intensely about my own kind? Or is it in the environ — the women’s condition — which etch them on my mind?
I try hard. Yes, I do remember a few men whom I know closely. Who had suffered in life. Or are suffering. Of poverty, or disease, or circumstances. But their miseries I always ascribe either to fate or to their own failure. That’s not the case with women. Somehow I always find a man behind a suffering woman.
I wonder if my perception is biased, my reasoning faulty. I wish it is so. And I hope to learn to think correctly, acquire clear perception, achieve a balanced outlook. I know it would take time. Wisdom comes with age. But wisdom is elusive. There are times when you feel you are wiser than ever. You feel you have learned. Then after a while you’re again lost, bewildered at the enigma of life, at the complexity of human nature.
It was the late ’70s. Following the year 1976, the Women’s International Year. I had become crazy about a Helen Reddy song. I played it again and again. It said:
I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
I’ve paid the price
But look what I’ve gained
I’m strong: I’m invincible; I’m woman
And I would hum it. Feeling good. Feeling wise. I’d reflect at my life and think: I can see
clearly now. That “now’ doesn’t last for long. And the mist would descend again and again.
For instance, the life of one of my aunt’s sisters-in-law. During my childhood I only knew one thing about her. Her husband was away. He lived in London while she stayed here with in-laws. When I grew up the question bugged me: why doesn’t she go and live with her husband? After all, so many families are settled abroad.
He never called her. “He didn’t want to marry her. He had made it clear. Yet his parents didn’t listen. And neither were the girl’s parents bothered about the boy’s attitude. They thought once married he would become all right, all caring, all loving. Soon after marriage he went to England,” my mother had told me.
But if he didn’t like her why would he return after every three, four years and impregnate her? I could never understand. I was wise enough not to put that question to my mother.
Now she has three daughters and a son. The eldest girl is 24. During all these years I
had noticed only one change in her life and that is very recent. He bought her an apartment. Now she lives with her children. Previously her life was hell, living with in-laws who subtly tortured her, convinced that it was her fault she didn’t win back her husband.
She is very thin. So thin it makes you wonder if she is suffering from tuberculosis. And she is silent. Tight-lipped. I’ve never seen her smile in my whole life. She is cold. You know, there are persons so cold they give you a shiver. She is one of them. I don’t know if she has turned cold and stony after what happened to her or if she is by nature a cold person. Might it not be the reason he didn’t like her? I wonder.
So you see, I am confused. Up until now I had accused her husband. “A brute, a heartless person. Doesn’t he feel anything for his wife, for his children?’
Was it his fault? He never liked her. And made it clear from the beginning. It was the elders’ folly. But I expected him to pay the price of others’ mistake, to compromise. Which he didn’t. Still whenever I see her I think of her husband, living a life of his own, though economically supporting her and the children, and I can’t help but think he is the man behind her tragic life.
Then there is a distant relative of mine. A woman of 52. A mother of four children. She is dying of cancer. And her husband is in Muscat. She has been in hospital for the last few months. You look at her consumed, emaciated body covered with white sheets with tubes fitted to her stomach (she can’t swallow anything), frightened children at the bed-side, worried parents and in-laws, and you wonder why doesn’t her husband fly back?
He had come during Eid. But her condition has deteriorated since then. And they have sent four telegrams to him during the last two weeks but he hasn’t come yet! “He is not getting leave.” If he is not getting leave should he quit the job or should he let her die in his absence? A question I know I can’t answer. Bui how would a man answer that? I don’t know. To be very frank I don’t want to know. I would rather shut my ears and not listen to a man’s version.
And so my thinking is biased, very subjective.