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.
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.
Did the traditional family of the past have a happy, blissful time? This question has intrigued me often. I hear from the elders, and read in books too, that once upon a time ‘They all lived under one roof. There was love and care and sacrifice. The human values were intact’, etc. etc.
I don’t refute the elders’ claim. In fact I find it very soothing to believe that once the world was a better place to live in. It makes me happy to know that people were once happy!
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.
There is something getting on my nerves day by day: it’s hypocrisy in our society and our life. Above all, in familial relationships. It makes me sick and I dread the day when it would rob me completely of my trust and pride and good feelings I have for the ‘family’.
The ‘family’ of the East has been so glorified and its accounts so studded with adjectives like ‘love’, ‘warmth’, ‘cohesiveness’, ‘stability’, etc., that it’s almost a sacrilege to point out any flaws, glaring or subtle. You can only talk about ‘the good’ and dare not contemplate ‘the bad and the ugly’.
And the last thing you can question is the parent-child relationship.
Of all the misfortunes that befall women in our society I think the hardest is an idle husband. A husband who doesn’t work, doesn’t earn, doesn’t do home chores, and neither does he go away and leave the woman (and kids) alone. A woman stuck with such a husband is in a quandary.
An idle husband (nikthatto shauher) is not an uncommon phenomenon in our society. Women suffer in silence accepting their condition as fate. They know the treatment of this diseased situation is divorce. But they don’t want a divorce because of the stigma attached.
The concept (and practice) of taking up to four wives has always intrigued me. Rather, enraged me. I always thought irritatingly, ‘Well, if a man can take four wives why can’t a woman take four husbands?’
As I grew up and delved further into the question I realised the complexity of the issue and naivety of my stand: polyandry is no answer to polygamy. Telling the kid one’s not sure who his father is among the four guys is as confusing as the disclosure that the poor soul has got four mothers (one real, three step)!
If you believe in fate, you would ascribe unhappiness that abounds in people’s life to fate and nothing else. ‘They are fated to be unhappy, to be miserable’, you tell yourself. But if you are not such an absolute fatalist, you’d start wondering if it’s human beings themselves who bring unhappiness unto their lives.
When I think about them — Azhar Bhai, approaching 40, married two years back and now father of a son, Saira Aapa, his sister, a divorcee, in her early 40s and their ailing, widowed mother — I ask myself “Why have they always been such unhappy people?