What do you feel when you wake up one fine morning, pick up the newspaper and find a photo on the front page of burqa-clad women picketing in favour of discriminatory, distorted, so-called Islamic laws?
Your first reaction is to bang your head against the wall (in case you’re really worked up on the issue). As you don’t intend to do literally anything of the kind, you let the moment pass.
Stars scribble in our eyes the frosty sagas
The gleaming cantos of unvanquished space — Hull Crane
If you believe in stars (even if your belief is like a faint sensation), if you believe that the wanderers of the cosmos influence your destiny on Earth then it’s time to rejoice. The year 1985 Juts been termed by astrologers as opportune for women.
The New Year began on a happy note when I came to know of the findings of a Pakistani astrologer. He says women are going to make remarkable headway in 1985. The progress will be made in the realm of education; knowledge will expand. The chart he has calculated, indicates that on March 20, 1985, Mercury will enter the Heaven’s at 9:17 PM and thence of will be the ruling Planet.
When something goes wrong with a marriage, it’s generally the woman whose life is wrecked. I know quite a few women whom miseries have befallen after marriage and I often think had they not been married they wouldn’t have suffered. But if they had remained unmarried, their lives might have been empty. And I wonder if a feeling of emptiness is better than a life of pain. Or is it choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea? I don’t really know.
Anyway. There is one marriage I have seen which destroyed the man and not the woman. Marriage killed him. I mean literally.
Most social customs revolve around the institution of the family. And the family, or home, is the woman’s domain. So let’s face the fact that women play a significant role in perpetuating decadent social customs.
Women dominate family affairs no matter how much subjugated they are in other matters of life. But their dominance is pathetic. Because the dominance is over petty, superfluous things masked by the disproportionate importance attached to them. By women themselves. Who else?
Social change is a complicated phenomenon. It is weird. Because it brings in its wake an erosion of values you’d have liked to preserve. It is frightening. Because it doesn’t move an inch the system you wish to wipe out.
Why does a society cling so stubbornly to cumbersome, decadent customs while losing grip on norms tangible and functional? Does this show a deep malaise, a tendency towards self-destruction?
Perhaps it does. I see no other explanation of the almost pathological perseverance and archaic glorification of the customs that go with marriage.
During my early youth I believed that adolescence was the most wonderful period in a person’s life. And I thought every teenager in the world was in a blissful state. It made me feel miserable. Because I wasn’t having ‘the most wonderful time’ in the least!
I think it was Urdu poetry that played mischief and filled my head with romanticised notions of youth. I am sure fiction didn’t do any harm because for one thing, it was ‘taraqqi pasand afsanay’ I was reading since class five; for another, they must be going above my head at that time anyway.
Whatever poets said about ‘sweet sixteen’, to me it was nothing but sour. All my complexes (inferiority complexes) intense ambivalence (particularly toward my mother), fights and frictions (with siblings), dreams, aspirations, frustrations, etc, made my mind a confused jumble of thoughts and feelings, and my ‘stream of consciousness’ a torrential, frothing mass. But mercifully all that was behind a placid facade: I was quite a quiet person.
Two weeks back when I read about the Council of Islamic Ideology’s questionnaire on women’s status I couldn’t but utter ‘Oh God, these people! They speak a dead language and they live in a cocoon.’
And 1 thought: In their fanaticism they have become blind as a bat. But no. Not as a bat. Bats have a remarkable facility of echo location. And these people seem to locate neither objects nor concepts. Least of all, the change, the reality. They sound so oblivious of it all.
Thus CII states in the questionnaire it has sent to elicit people’s opinions: “To satisfy their own lust, westernised individuals in Pakistan want to bring women out of their homes and make them the centre of attraction in society in negation of Islamic instructions. They wish to thrust on the woman, economic responsibilities in addition to her family responsibilities. In your opinion, what weaknesses will result in an Islamic society because of this unnatural approach?”
When I think of the three of them I tell myself at least Azhar Bhai could have lived in contentment. Being a man, he had more power, more control over the events. He could have steered himself, if not his mother and sister, out of it all.
But what went wrong?
He was handsome. He still is. Only his flamboyance is gone, replaced with sobriety. But I vividly remember he was quite a lady killer. Many of my cousins were crazy about him. He was a charmer. He had a hell of a time with girls. I couldn’t have known all about it but my elder brother and I were great friends and he used to tell me some stories.
Even if my brother hadn’t told me about Azhar Bhai’s extra-curricular activities, I would have known it anyway. My cousin sister, Farah, though elder to me but closer, had a crush on him. And everybody knew it. It was in the family.
There is something eerie in the air these days. Else, why would you come across so many strange news? Events which are bizarre. Which defy reason. Which evoke a whirlpool of thoughts, a phantasmagoria of feelings.
There is something oppressive. Absurd.
I remember when I read Kafka’s The Trial. Quite a few years back. I had heard it was great. And I knew a bit about Kafka’s standing in philosophical literature. But that was all.
I had this approach (and still have, to some extent) toward books: I read because I just loved to read, loved to know, and not because I was out to discover hidden meanings. Or truths, or philosophies, or some kind of enlightenment.
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.