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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.