I had attended her wedding. A typical wedding it was. And Tabassum made a typical bride — beautiful, bejewelled, stony. I looked at her up close. Her eyes were closed. There was nothing on her face I could read.
‘Oh God!’ I felt helpless. I wanted so much to know what was going on inside her head, inside her heart. If only I could have a glimpse of the soul behind the glossy, inert mass of bridal red.
She was getting married. To a widower. Her brother-in-law! And her dead sister’s children, bewildered and silent, encircled their Choti khala, their new ammi.
It all happened so fast. Like the unbearable part of a hackneyed movie you play in fast motion on the video. And the characters look so grotesque, kaleidoscopic. Their movements make no sense and they evoke feelings in you quite incongruous to what was really happening to them on the celluloid. If weeping, the character’s tears, in stormy trickles, make you laugh.
And so I felt dazed. At her fate. I felt something akin to horror. And pity. “It’s not fair,” I thought. “It’s cruel,” I was sure.
Tabassum’s sister had died within a week of some unknown disease. It was a sudden death, unexpected and tragic. She was 36 and she left behind four kids. The eldest child was just 8.
After six months, the widower’s family approached Tabassum’s parents. “He wants to remarry and we have come to ask for Tabassum’s hand.’’
Tabassum’s mother, old and frail, grieved and bedridden due to her daughter’s loss was faced with a painful proposition “If he matters outside, what would happen to the children? Would the woman accept her stepchildren? Wouldn’t Tabassum make the best mother-substitute?”
So her parents asked Tabassum, a university graduate, and she said if they thought it was a right decision, she had no objection.
The marriage wasn’t forced on her. It was a conscious decision on Tabassum’s part. She was 28, mature and educated. She could have refused if she wanted to. But could she? I would never know.
I came to know that when she went to her new home in Quetta, where once her beloved sister lived, and opened her sister’s old trunk, Tabassum found the linen intact that she herself had embroidered for her sister’s dowry. Somehow her sister hadn’t used a single thing! Perhaps that needle-work was fated to be used by the hands which stitched them. The tricks kismet plays!
It’s almost three years now. Tabassum has got two daughters of her own. She takes care of her six children. Though I haven’t met her since, I have come to know about her now and then. She is doing all right. Hers is a normal, married life.
I don’t feel sad about her any more. Yes, she made a sacrifice. But why must I associate sacrifice with tragedy? The person who sacrifices her own interests for others is not necessarily an unhappy person. Tabassum would have married someone anyway and would have borne a bunch of kids. So why was I shocked when she married her brother-in-law? Because I thought she would be haunted by her dead sister’s memory.
Because I wondered how she could go near a man who had slept with her sister. I also wondered why she should be burdened with the responsibility of raising her sister’s children.
But reality is not a mere set of some fanciful assumptions. Reality is day-to day living. It’s fluid. Ever-changing. The prospect of marrying her brother-in-law soon after her sister’s death must have been a very painful experience for Tabassum but the wedding did change the reality: they had become man and wife.
Her sister was dead and gone. And the living don’t die with the dead nor should they be petrified by the past. That’s the secret of life.
So Tabassum was wise. And courageous. She could look into the future without being shackled by the past.