We have been reciting the Quran without knowing its meaning since our childhood. I don’t remember anybody ever encouraging me to read its Urdu translation. Whenever I said, “Mother, I am reading its translation,” she said “O.K. That’s fine. But read it in Arabic too,” with an implication that reading in Arabic is far more desirable (though you can’t understand a word) than reading the Tarjuma. As a growing child I found it a double task to read it both in Arabic and Urdu. Thus most of the time I ended up just reciting it in Arabic.
When I grew up I was told that reading the Urdu translation is useless unless you read it along with Tafseer. I don’t disagree with this observation. You can’t take the Divine book lightly. If you really want to understand it you’ve got to study it thoroughly, seriously. And it requires an immense effort as well as a genuine desire.
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.
Single, young women living independently was a Western social phenomenon that fascinated me most. In books it sounded like a fairy tale. And when I saw it in real life I was totally captivated.
I remember when I first entered Isabelle’s apartment, my hostess in Paris. I was breathless. “Two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen — all to herself,” I marveled. Coming from a crowded house of 13 from the East, it took some time to register on my mind that Isabelle, a single soul, had got all that space to herself.
All those years, I never had a room of my own. As a kid I shared it with my elder brother and a sister. Later, being the eldest, he had the privilege of getting a separate room while us two sisters were left to fight it out.
Love is a mystery. Or so they say. But marriages in our society puzzle me more. Particularly the second marriage. Sure, second marriages are no enigma for men. It’s quite simple and easy for them. But why? And how could it be so smooth, so painless?
I wondered as I watched Bano Qudsia’s drama of ’83, Hikayatain, Shikayatain at my friend’s place. In a faraway, small, peaceful city of Azad Kashmir. My friend is married. And like most of the couples I’ve come across, they’re quite a mismatch. My friend and her husband have only three things in common — age, blood and temper. Both are 29, first cousins and temperamental.
So there I was — a house guest — watching the play late at night. My friend’s husband was in the other room with their four-year-old daughter (he is not interested in plays. He prefers to watch wrestling, cricket).
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.
It was for the first time in my life, as far as I remember, that I reacted to a murder in that peculiar way: awe and delight. My instant reaction was ‘Bravo!’ when I read the news, ‘She shot her lover dead.’
Slightly disturbed at this brutal reaction to a gruesome act, I tried to make amends by reasoning with myself: ‘But she destroyed herself too. Didn’t she? She might be hanged.’
But damn the gallows.
The fact remains that I was fascinated and still can’t make myself believe she did a wrong. And I am not alone. I talked to a few friends of mine, all women, about this episode that took place in Lahore and was reported two weeks back. And they all reacted the same way.
At times you find truth stranger than fiction. In fiction life appears a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces at least fit together, no matter how crooked and a pattern emerges, no matter how weird. But with truth! No way! There are moments you could simply gasp at reality and not grasp it at all.
It was a year back when my sister came to know through some one that Mr. Y. had taken a second wife. I refused to believe it. “It’s a lie. We just visited Mr. and Mrs Y. a few days back and they were both quite the same happy couple.”
“And who do you think is his second wife?” My sister ignored the remark and persisted. “How should I know?” “Try to guess.” Something dawned on me. “Oh God! Don’t tell me it’s her!”
The family is known to us for the last seven years or so. Though it’s not a very long period but they had been our next-door neighbours for four years. And we have a relatively close acquaintanceship with the family. The couple has two sons, aged 24 and 21.
Memories of my childhood are pleasant. Unlike the tough times I had as a teenager. There are soothing associations. Like trees and butterflies and romping in open space and wild bushes.
Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t born in any valley full of pine trees and flowing streams. But very much here. The hot, humid city with no mountains and only the sea which was far away; it wasn’t a forest. But Karachi was no concrete jungle either when I was a kid. Some twenty years ago.
The houses were few and far apart. There were wild creepers, thorny bushes, cacti, jasmine and guava trees. The kids were numerous. It was a joint family.
My cousin sister and I loved to catch butterflies with bare hands, watch with fascination their dazzling patterns and hold them till our fingers were tainted with the colours of their wings. And then we would set them free.
Eyes are vulnerable — those tenuous instruments, as blind Borges called them — and film is vulnerable. And it is the confrontation of two such vulnerabilities which makes the cinema such a poignant medium. — Bresson (‘Notes sur leCinematographe’).
Looking at Deepti Naval’s plain yet attractive face in Saath Saath. I thought there was after all a girl on the silver screen you could identify with – a pleasant identification, for she emerged as a strong-willed person who made her own decisions. Even the love-story wasn’t far-fetched. It could have happened to you, or to any other woman.
Saath Saath is not a very arty movie. It’s a soft, realistic, semi-serious film. But it’s one of those few ‘new wave’ Indian movies which make me wish we could have the same kind of parallel cinema in Pakistan.
Could marriage be the most boring end of a romance? Once I thought it couldn’t be. And I used to be furious at those who mocked at love-birds when they took wedding vows. Now as I watch Seema and Umer, married for the last six months, I couldn’t help but yawn and say, “How boring!”
Since the days when I was an idealist and had a heady notion of love, I have observed some love marriages. And how did they turn out? Anywhere between sour, troubled, smooth or inspiring. Never before did I witness a love marriage that was boring.
For instance, Parveen and Sultan’s turned out to be a real tough one.
After marriage Parveen found out Sultan wasn’t ambitious enough and he discovered she was too materialistic. And they both realised their likes and dislikes weren’t the same.