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But judge we do

Updated August 17, 2013

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You never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.

– Harper Lee

Perveen washes my clothes, my dirty dishes and my bathrooms. She mops my floors and empties my trash and sometimes (like once in a blue moon) takes a duster and flicks it haphazardly at some of the furniture so she can add dusting to her list of chores.

She’s a cheerful soul and even when her husband has beaten her up (usually three times a week, five if he’s having a really bad week) she can grin and tell me all about it.

“You are the earning member of the family; you pay the rent and put the food on the table. Your husband just smokes it away, why do you put up with him, throw him out,” is my smug, complacent advice.

No no Baji, he’s my man, how can I live without his protection?

Perveen sounds scandalised and I sigh and turn my mind to other things. Like brunch with a friend at one of Karachi’s hip, happening and over-priced cafés. Unfortunately, said café is the scene of a coffee party and since my friend and I can hardly hear each other, we make do with eavesdropping on the loud conversation going on next to us.

“My maid borrowed a thousand rupees from me for Eid and then the wretch didn’t even turn up on Eid day; I had to get my sister’s maid to wash the dishes after the party.”

“I know, these people are so unreliable. You should do what I do, give Eidee on the third day of Eid. Then they know they have to come.”

“My girl lives in but she’s so lazy. All she has to do is mind the baby, and you know he’s such a sweetheart, no trouble at all. But even that she shirks.”

At this, the woman turns to a girl who looks like an underfed 12-year-old, “Mariam, don’t let the baby crawl on the floor, keep him on your lap.”

I turn to look at these women and see beautiful faces, thousand-rupee blow dries, designer lawn outfits and understated but by no means cheap jewellery. They are toying with their salads (without dressing) and sipping their coffee (black) and many of them have brought their own Mariams to mind their children. But the Mariams of this world don’t merit a salad or coffee or even an order of fries. Why should they, there will be plenty of leftovers for them once they reach home; eating on the job is so unprofessional, na?

I look at the beautiful clothes and then take another closer look at the faces; very few look happy. The lady with the biggest diamond in her ring looks positively discontented and the one sporting the latest Sana Safinaz print can’t hide her dark circles and wrinkles in spite of the expertly applied foundation. I see none of the joy I saw on Perveen’s face when she told me about her daughter’s Eid outfit.

“Baji it’s so pretty. Red and orange with gold trimming and a gold net duppatta. I smile and nod trying not to shudder at the thought of all this gaudy finery.

“It was 1,200 but my daughter loved it so much I said never mind, buy it.”

I snap put of my mental vision of Perveen’s daughter in a red, orange and gold dress.

“1,200! Are you mad? You can barely make ends meet and you blow 1,200 on one outfit?”

Perveen looks me calmly in the eye. “Baji, my daughter is 16; in a year or less her father will get her married, most likely to some loser like himself. God know if she’ll ever get a new suit. Perhaps she won’t even want one; she’ll be happy enough to escape a beating or get a proper meal.

Maybe this Eid with its pretty suit will be the best memory she’ll have for the rest of her life. I can’t give her much but I can give her that.

I realised in that moment that I know nothing of the harsh realities of Perveen’s life, where a no-good violent husband is better than no husband at all. Similarly, I have no concept of what goes on behind the shimmering façade of designer suits and glittering diamonds.

Perhaps that thick coat of foundation hides a tell-tale bruise? Perhaps that overly-botoxed face is a last ditch attempt to hang on to a husband turning to a brighter, younger alternative? We can’t know so we have no right to judge, but judge we do.

However, I do wish people would stop bringing their maids to restaurants; and if they must, at least buy them a decent meal. That’s not being judgmental, that’s just asking for basic courtesy.