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.
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).
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.
Why can’t we have men friends the way we have women friends? A volatile question indeed, that often puzzles a friend of mine. She thinks women can have friendship with men.
What she means by friendship is a relationship based on mutual understanding and care and sharing of interests and ideas — minus motive, sans desire. Just like a relationship that exists between two female friends.
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.
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?