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?”
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.
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.
Sometimes women can be their own worst enemy. Particularly when it comes to falling prey to the stereotype. For instance, it’s a generally held belief among women (forget men for a while) that ‘women are dull, uninteresting and stupid’. At most, they are ‘shrewd’ and ‘bitchy’. It hurts me when I find educated women holding the view.
I wouldn’t say all educated women harbour this notion. I know many women who judge people, whether men or women, on their individual worth, untarnished by prejudices, stripped off of stereotypes. Nonetheless, I’ve come across women, working and educated who have a rather negative opinion of women.
“Women bore me,” one told me with disdain, “they only talk of dresses and jewelry.” You might have forgiven her and let it go by sticking a label ‘so-called intellectual’ if you’ve ever heard her talking about things like Kant’s Criuque of Pure Reason or Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Autumn of the Patriarch or watched her falling into a heated argument over USA’s foreign policy in Latin America or the games politicians play in Pakistan.
Women are strange beings. Suffering silently. Taking in whatever comes. You wonder if they are black holes — sucking inside the cruelty, the injustice. Without a whimper. With bruised souls, they continue to exist. Hidden from the ‘all-knowing’ male eye.
But at times your black hole metaphor collapses. Something happens. A rare event. They refuse to rake in any more. They explode. And the rebels are born.
They simply stand up and walk down the streets, picketing!
A rare phenomenon indeed, in the female population deprived of education. Pinned down by the hard issues of survival, they appear immovable. And their privileged few sisters rack their brains in vain to change their lot.