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Women seldom allow more than a glimpse, in love or pain

Published Jan 05, 2013 05:27pm


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290-BrideThe snow turned to ice rain. The roads were slippery. It was cloudy and dark. The car’s headlight illuminated only a small portion of the road ahead. The rest remained hidden in thick, wet darkness. Zee could hear the crystalised rain falling on the road and then crushing under the tyres.

And suddenly a small part of the sky changed, from pitch black to off-white. The road ahead changed its colour too, as did the trees that shaded the road. Even the Potomac (river) became more visible.

The light added a mysterious shade to everything within its range. The Watergate building, the Kennedy Centre and the Lincoln Memorial were pushed into the background.

The trees, the river and the sky became unmistakably clear. As if this sudden illumination had a hidden purpose: to show us how whatever we build around us is nothing more than a façade. Only the sky, river and trees are real.

Zee, who is Zubair to his family, stopped his car before the Memorial Bridge which divides Washington and Virginia. “I have crossed this bridge hundreds of time but now I do not recognise it.”

Zee was returning from a New Year party. It was a large gathering, so people split into small groups. Zee did not join any. He kept moving from one group to another.

An Indian friend – in America, Pakistanis have Indians friends too – stopped Zee and asked what he was looking for. Without waiting for an answer, he added: “Why look for what you have not lost? Why be lost in the search of what’s not lost?”

“After how many glasses?” asked Zee; suppressing his smile.

“I was quoting Rumi,” said Dev.

“Yes, you were, but after how many glasses?” Zee asked again.

“Who is counting,” Dev replied.

Zee moved towards the counter and picked up a can of diet coke. “Not drinking?” asked Seema, the host.

“No, I am the driver today, brought three people with me. Have to take them back too.”

A friend everybody called the Disco-Mullah came to Zee, pointed towards Dev and asked: “Does this self-proclaimed Sufi ever make sense?”

“We don’t come to these parties to make sense,” said Zee.

“I do, always,” said the Modern-Mullah.

“Yes, you do and that’s why you never have fun. Why do you even bother coming?” Zee asked.

“Ah my friend, I do my bit to show them the right path,” said the Disco-Mullah.

“It will be better to keep them in the right lane when they drive home after the party,” said Zee.

Most friends say the Disco-Mullah comes to these parties to nurture his ego.

“Do not remove nameplates from your doors. The visitor is struggling with his own identity, he has no time to identify you,” said Dev as Zee walked past him.

Zee went to another group where Rahila, a woman who always takes pride in being “a very successful housewife,” was reciting poems.

“This one is by Amrita Pretam,” a famous Punjabi intellectual,” she said.

Like most Punjabis, Indian or Pakistani, Zee also liked Amrita Pretam, who was known across the Subcontinent for a poem she wrote about the partition.

Since the group included both Indians and Pakistanis, Zee expected Rahila to recite the partition poem. She did not.

“This poem is about the regrets of a married woman,” she said, paused and began the poem:

“When I stepped on your bed I was not one, I was two One completely married; another completely virgin But for your pleasure I had to murder that virgin So I murdered her Murders that are considered legal and justified Only the disgrace that follows is unjustified So I swallowed the venom of that disgrace Then at dawn I noticed the stains of virginity And washed them Just as I washed other smelly parts of my body Then I faced the mirror The virgin was there, staring at me.”

Zee was shocked. “Not her,” he said to himself, “no, she obviously has no reason to share Amrita’s regrets.”

Amrita, he knew, had a disastrous first marriage which ended in separation. Rahila was a happily married mother of two beautiful children. Her husband was a successful businessman who never tired of praising his wife. She also appeared very fond of him. Their friends regarded them as a model couple.

“Why should she have such regrets?” Zee thought.

Later, he met Rahila while she was getting a glass of apple juice from the bar. Zee occasionally drinks red wine, using his heart condition as an excuse. But he never saw Rahila drinking alcohol.

“Do you share Amrita’s regrets?” he asked her.

She smiled and said: “Guess, don’t ask.”

“Why not?” he asked.

“South Asian women do not yet have the freedom to answer such questions, not even those who live in America,” she said.

For Zee, this was more shocking than the poem. Not knowing how to respond, he walked away.

Zee had another friend, Zinnia, who everyone knew had a stormy first marriage. One day she told her husband: “I am tired of your loveless embrace. You are tired of my nagging. Why don’t we end this façade and go our separate ways?”

And she left him. She never remarried. Lives with her two kids in a small apartment, drives an old car, does not wear expensive clothes but is happy that she ended a marriage that was not going anywhere.

But that’s Zinnia, open, frank and emotional. Rahila did not have any of these qualities or shortcomings, as some would say.

Rahila always had a smile on her face. Often came to parties holding her husband’s hand. Did not even let her children cry in a public place. “This is not your bedroom,” she would say whenever a child cried.

And that’s why even this poetic hint of her possible troubles surprised Zee.

“She must have taken some alcohol,” he thought. “It weakens your defences and you often acknowledge what you otherwise will not.”

Returning home, Zee noticed this unusual light that gave a new colour to everything, from trees and buildings to cars and people.

Zee felt as if the night was offering a rare glimpse of an unseen reality to those who cared to notice. Like a woman, who rarely allows more than a glimpse, whether in love or pain.


80x80-Anwar-IqbalThe author is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.


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Anwar Iqbal is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.

Comments (55) Closed

observer Jan 06, 2013 03:19pm
More than your question, I wonder how Dawn gives Mr. Anwar Iqbal regular space in the newspaper? Where is your class Dawn?
Sarim Khan Jan 07, 2013 01:44pm
Yes, you hope one day someone will write Zia ul Huq was a good man. But that day may never come as Zia was not a good man. He was the worst thing that happened to Pakistan. May God punish him and his followers.
sk Jan 07, 2013 11:16am
Pradip: This is what i call being a pseudo liberal is, i am 19 and currently pursuing my undergraduate studies in medicines and intend to do so even after getting married!!!! call me old school, but i believe in a legal relationship and hence, i decided to marry who, by the way is also studying at the age of 22. so, No, no body has forced me or something-- what i meant by saying i'm tensed is the general anxiety i guess every girl has before making a decision... Anyway, thanks for the wise advice @ abbastoronto, i never knew all this about islam. May you be rewarded. Thanks a lot. Warm Regards, Sk
abbastoronto Jan 07, 2013 11:52am
Pradip ji: Namaste Ceteris paribus, for healthy normal children, the ideal age for a woman to have her FIRST child is between 18-25. Then she can have her last at any age if she has them regularly thereafter. My mother had me when she was 16, and the last in her 40s - all perfectly normal and healthy. After 28 the body of a woman without a child starts shutting down the productive mechanism and the egg mutates. The first child after 30 has a very high risk of being abnormal (I have examples in our family) and the risk rises exponentially thereafter. The chances of an unmarried 30 year old white college educated girl ever getting married are 1 in 10. Men are very selective in procreation. In the matter of age a male has more leeway. One of my grandfathers, a 1901 engineering graduate from Bulendshehr U.P. was widowed in his 60s without a child. He married a young 16 year old and had a son who in turn had 12 wonderful cousins of mine. As a side note, it was my aunt's father who proposed to my uncle's mother. The most celebrated example in history is the progeny of nabis Ishaq and Ismail. The first one was from a old woman of the same race, the second from a young one (and a different race - Egyptian, so adding hybrid vigour). Today the progeny of the Ishaq is now merely 13.2 million and shrinking, and has some diseases particular to themselves. The progeny of Ismail is in hundreds of million and growing, and I have never heard of Abdul's disease, or Saeed's syndrome. Moral of the story is that marry away, marry young (and marry often LOL). Best wishes
Shahid Junejo Jan 07, 2013 11:51am
Respected sir what Thou wrote is wonderful in fact; i really amused having read it; the way poem is written is marvelous; bravo bravo bravo!
abbastoronto Jan 07, 2013 11:37am
ummemuhammed: AOA According to the hadith it was the father of Ayesha who proposed to the Prophet AS. But even then, the hadith are un-reliable. New research by Sunni scholars casts doubt about her age of 6 at marriage. It is now estimated anywhere from 15 to 19 or even 21. Some even say that she was near 40, and already married once. Allah knows best. But my view is that it is highly unlikely that the Blessing to Mankind would marry an infant. It is true that in Pakistan and in the West a woman proposing to woman today would be considered "loose". But it is authentic that UmmulMomineed Khadija proposed to our Prophet AS. The sunnah of the First Marriage in Islam is the only and true one for us to follow. It is interesting that in Bollywood Muslim films it is always the man that proposes. But the Pakistani blockbuster Saat Laakh it was woman who asked the man to marry her (never mind it was a convoluted story) With women in hijab do Muslim men not strut around anyway like a peacock? That is exactly nature wants them to do. See the above post by Pradip Sahib. Wassalam
abbastoronto Jan 07, 2013 11:28am
Pradip Ji. Namaste Many thanks. In nature is is always female's call. That is exactly what I meant. Religions are like genes. The stronger one dominates. That with weaker culture will convert to the stronger one. I presume you are referring to Hinduism and Islam. Hinduism (like Buddhism, Christianity) is tied to agrarian economy, Islam to the Trading one. It is rational for anyone from the first to convert to the latter in today's world of Globalization and Free Trade. Elementary Mr. Watson. Best wishes
Pradip Jan 07, 2013 08:37pm
LOL. I indeed am a card carrying full fledged liberal from MA. I did not suggest that you were forced into marriage. In life, we evolve continuously and so what may appeal to you now, may not be so appealing in 10 years time and this is equally true for both males and females. I also married someone who I knew before and of course, being a male I would not know of feminine trepidations. Most wise people will tell you though that marriage is not so much for love than it is to create and nurture a second generation. Good luck in every sense to you!
abbastoronto Jan 07, 2013 11:17am
Right on. A marriage is not a platform to learn about life. Islam is not Christianity, and Islamic marriage is not Western marriage. While the Westerners dread financial instability, and Christians pray for their daily bread, Muslims seek a larger set of blessings since sustenance for all is already guaranteed by Allah. The Western/Christian marriage is necessity-based, where two incomplete halves, each alone unfit for Survival, are obliged to come together to form one whole. A Muslim union is between two independent wholes; they do not 'need' each other for Survival, but 'want' to be with each other for a common and joint purpose beyond, to Growth and Evolution.
Open Minded Jan 08, 2013 05:30am
deep, but SA women, have the courage to hide pain and show love, but SA men never show love always show pain, it because how they are raised!
Kalyan Jan 06, 2013 07:35am
For every bad tale, there is a good one. For every troubled couple, there are successful ones. Do not pre-judge anyone before marriage. Worry will not remove the problems of tomorrow. It will only remove the strength of today.
Loveless Jan 08, 2013 07:01pm
Haris mian, after getting old, I have realized that love and only love matters in your relationships. A relationship without love is an unfortunate incident. I am a Pakistani and can only say this on their behalf: without love our lives are lost in the dust of time.
observer Jan 06, 2013 03:17pm
There is some lack of chemistry between this writer's articles and my useless brain. I have not seen an article from this author that I can categorize better than just rubbish and waste of time. Keep working hard and I hope you come up with something worth reading some day.
Rizwan - US Jan 07, 2013 04:01am
@ Abbas - well said.
Chanakya Jan 07, 2013 02:12pm
Who is talking about marriage?
george Jan 07, 2013 09:43am
man created religion, and religion did not create man. So if the time demands, some edicts of religion needs change. There is no reason to regret that as most muslims do. One has to move with time.
Enigma Jan 07, 2013 05:38am
Nice article, it has one of the best lines i have read in the recent times. "the night was offering a rare glimpse of an unseen reality to those who cared to notice". Hats off!
Sue Sturgess Jan 07, 2013 01:24am
on the contrary ..... judge everyone before marriage, and marry the one you judge to be best. No point in waiting until after you are amrried to decide if he / she is wrong for you
george Jan 07, 2013 09:38am
You do not have the emotional maturity.
Chanakya Jan 07, 2013 11:14am
In Pakistan too, girls belonging to well to do educated families can do, are doing what ever they want to , what ever the want to become or what ever they want to achieve .They are diplomats, ambassadors, high commissioners, prime minister, foreign ministers, writers, artists, film makers ,educationists and so on.The writer has a very narrow and negative view of female hood. Unfortunately every body seems to took his bait. He must be laughing off, sitting some where in a bar in the US. Enough. Go home, and relax.
Rahul Jan 07, 2013 04:35pm
Out of curiosity, why r u brining in religion for what everybody in the rest of the world has done, doing and will do, infact what we do as apart of companion ship and re-production animals do too, please stop getting refrence of ur religion in everything as NFP has said, if all good is god's gift than all bad is god's curse than you are talking about KARMA and ur following Hinduism which are not, funny isnt it ? :) !!
Nasah (USA) Jan 08, 2013 02:08am
If they don't allow a glimse of their inner self they get this -- violated by 5 men and thrown off the bus as good as dead -- if they did what tragedies will befall them -- the South Asian woman -- stay shut you era has not arrived yet. Zee is the other name for the Disco Mulla. Great writing Anwar Iqbal! Great writing!
abbastoronto Jan 06, 2013 03:24pm
sk: Greetings Well, you still have a month. So get working. The foremost in Islamic marriage is the Contract that only the woman prepares with her all conditions and proposes to the man. Man can not dictate conditions. He looks at it and may say that he does not like condition 9, 13, 27 etc. You both negotiate until he is satisfied and when he says yes, that is marriage - you do not need priests, witnesses in Quranic marriage. I do not want to be crude, but the sad truth is that when a woman opens herself to a man she effectively closes her mouth, meaning that NO man of any race or colour or religion will accept ANY new female conditions once she has sexually offered herself. The time for negotiations is NOW. So think hard about what you want out of marriage, and if he does not accept to your goals seek a new one who will, because if in Islam woman has primacy in marriage (only she can propose), man has primacy in divorce (a woman can get out of it easily). Women beware. Best wishes
ummemuhammed Jan 07, 2013 12:51am
Excuse me? What about Prophet Muhammed Pbuh proposing to Syedna Ayesha RA and some others as well. Its not true that only the women proposed. They did in some cases, not all. Though I do not have any objection to girl's side proposing. However, in my observation, in most cases, it creates a negative shade in her life continuously, because in disagreements and arguments, the guy and his family always remind her 'I/our boy was so much of a prize that you/your family came after me/our boy'... And it disrupts the natural phenomena of the guy wooing the girl, instead now he starts strutting around...
Pradip Jan 07, 2013 12:14am
Why do you need to get married when you are 19 ? Go get an education so you can stand on your feet and face the world with more conviction and you will be less worried about how someone else will treat you. If you were to live in Pakistan, this might not have been an option but you do have more options.
Pradip Jan 07, 2013 12:06am
Abbastoronto who lives in Dearborn, Michigan: I appreciated your comments for the first time...without however mixing up with what Mohammed did or did not. In terms of evolutionary theory, as we see around us, it is always the female of the species that chooses the mate - looking for the best DNA. In human beings and this is true of all societies - irrespective of religion, it is men who takes the initiative and here I would insist that it has more to do with property rights ever since private property evolved compared to community property. In fact, in matrilineal societies some of the old custom still prevails although these societies are mostly outliers by now. As a side note, converting to the spouse's religion is extremely disrespectful ...more so in an open world of today. If I were to marry a Muslim woman, or a Jewish woman for that matter, I would respect her every right to maintain her link with the religion of her family.
Krish Chennai Jan 07, 2013 05:59pm
I am surprised that this blog of yours still sees light of day in Dawn. It bears no comparison with your earlier articles, is rather maudlin and morose, symptomatic of someone who has "loved and lost". Even Shakespeare, when he wrote the oft-quoted "Frailty, thy name is woman", obviously wanted to say exactly the opposite. Finally, you just have to agree that the hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world, whether it is of Islam, Judaism, Christianity, or Hinduism, etc, etc.
sk Jan 06, 2013 01:40pm
Thank you everyone for your wishes. @abbastoronto: It's not like my mom alone made the choice, i am like 19 and i kinda know this guy, i like him but he is a Pakistani boy like totally desi & filmy despite having lived abroad for quite sometime like demanding and all which i've never really been able to make out as a bad thing or a good thing.. and i grew up abroad myself and have already heard horrible experiences,, I understand the writer's point but isn't it off putting for young couples who are to wed,...I still find it depressing...My marriage is a month away but i still keep re thinking whether my decision is a wrong one!
Shan Jan 05, 2013 01:26pm
Very nice
MKB Jan 07, 2013 08:53am
I am very sad to see again here religion has been brought -up. In fact no religion has given complete wisdom to our woman flock. It is better we should not speak about religion. The article is a very skillfully written. Mr. Anwar has the ability of a story teller. I like it, because whatever the sprit and essence, it is " our sweetest song are those which tells us saddest thought." Very nicely written.
sk Jan 05, 2013 03:33pm
I am getting married soon and this article sort of made me depressed....i've been asking my mom if my hubby is going to treat me already tensed...reading this was a bad idea
Nasser Ali Khan Jan 05, 2013 04:28pm
A good article, and a reminder to all of us Pakistanis! Any body who has spent enough time on this Earth should know that you do not judge a book by its cover. When we meet others we put on our best to view. There are 2 reasons for it; one, who doesn't want to show himself/herself in the best light? and two, how it will help one by telling his/her problems to others (generally)?
Karachi Wala Jan 05, 2013 04:31pm
World Wide Web enables many souls to share their deepest feelings, with or without face. Does it make any difference or suddenly it changes back to even darker realities of life?
Divya Jan 05, 2013 06:49pm
Anwar Saab, reading your blog is always an absolute delight! Sincere Regards, Divya (India)
seemi Jan 05, 2013 07:03pm
Very nice poetry of Amrita pritam. I request you to please write original text of this poetry or at least give the reference, thanks
rich Jan 06, 2013 06:58pm
very predictable article, i knew it was written by anwar saab just by reading the article i do not agree with what is written, it sound very fake
Cyrus Howell Jan 05, 2013 10:46pm
Telling our secrets and our problems to other is a bit like committing suicide. Women are very prone to emotional suicide.
Cyrus Howell Jan 05, 2013 10:51pm
I could tell you stories about Indian and Pakistani men (and women) that would make your hair stand on end. The reason I know is they could confide in me - a stranger. I'll tell how Chinese woman looking for husbands handle the situation. If they catch the man telling them a lie, even once. he is confined to history.
Cyrus Howell Jan 05, 2013 10:53pm
We tell our parents and families something different than we tell others, sometimes something very different.
abbastoronto Jan 05, 2013 11:42pm
sk: Greetings from Dearborn MI You mean you let your mother choose your husband for you? Trouble ahead. If you are Muslim, read on. In the West, the man proposes; in contrast the Mohammedan marriage has given this right solely to a mature, independent woman who must prepare the contract and propose to a mature man. The present practice among Muslims of the bridegroom side sending “rishta” to the bride’s family has no basis in our Prophet’s Sunnah (who proposed to no one). It is expropriation of women's rights, and un-natural, and thus may be the premier cause of dysfunctional families in the past, and now rampant marital strife and divorces a la West. Islam of today is anti-Mohammedan, anti-Quranic, opposite of Islam practiced by our Prophet and stated in the Quran. Our Prophet’s marriage was a love marriage. Ummul Momineen Khadija fell head over heels in love with our Prophet. When she sent him on a business mission to Damascus she ordered one of her servants to take note of everything he did, and report back to her. What she heard back only increased her love for him. Then she proposed to him, reportedly against the wishes of her father who was not a Muslim. The Sunnah was set. Our Prophet proposed to no free woman in his life - only the women or their fathers proposed to him. Even today, in Islamic Nikah ceremony of EVERY Sect, it is the woman or her wakeel proposes, and the man or his wakeel accepts – the ijab and qabool. Pakistan’s greats – Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan, Faiz – were all pursued by beautiful non-Muslim women who converted to Islam – Rutti, Sheila, Elys to Maryam, Raana, and Elys. In Jinnah’s case her rich father opposed the matter. In nature, it is always a female’s call. I remember reading a survey in the Reader’s Digest some 50 years ago. Long-term happily married couples were queried how long had they known each other before marriage. The average of men was 6 months, and of their spouses was 18 – a difference of 1 year. A rational explanation is that the woman had the man in her cross-hairs a full year before that she used to study him well, and then brought herself into his sphere using means that women know best. So women, for a happy life, get your man - choose, and not be chosen. That is exactly the socio-economics of Hijab. In the West, the man chooses, so the woman must bare herself much to increase her chances. In Islam, it is woman who chooses, and will show more of herself only to him who she wants to show. Incidentally, even India has forgotten its noble past - a woman would hold a swayamvar to choose the best man and propose to him, but I presume the Hindus have corrupted their religion just as Muslims have.
Rawalpindiwala Jan 06, 2013 01:08am
Please don't be depressed. Make your own judgement and give all your love to your future husband but be cautious as well and spend time getting to know each other as much as you can. Most of the Pakistani newly weds are not trained in the art of living together - which is good and bad - and therefore treat each other with positive thoughts and open mind. Marriage is a work in progress and it must be worked on as without that you will have many disappointments. God bless and good luck!
Kausar.talat Jan 06, 2013 01:23am
Wonder what is the purpose of this blabbering in a country with so many troubles
Chanakya Jan 06, 2013 03:05am
Why the South Asians see every thing in such a negative, tragic way?
Samir Jan 06, 2013 05:35pm
Great story
haris Jan 07, 2013 03:32pm
Although it find it a useless article but the only thing I learned from this crappy piece is the hypocrisy of Rahila. Happily married, wife of a wealthy and loving Man and a Mother of 2 beautiful children but still not happy with life. "bahar sey Kuch, dil mein Kuch aur" such a hypocrite.
Chanakya Jan 06, 2013 04:07am
As a young man, I saw Gurudutt's "Chohadavin Ka Chaand". And my favourt lyricist "Sahir" penned thiss in that movie" " saajan se milan hoga, sharmaane ke din aaye". How romantic it was then and how sensuous still is.
haris Jan 07, 2013 03:21pm
Good question
haris Jan 07, 2013 03:19pm
Respected Sir, You should write this story in "3 aurtein 3 kahaniyaan".
Younas Jan 06, 2013 06:14am
Reading this might be a bad one. but shouldn't be depressed like, the purpose of the article wasn't to do so i think, have a look on Mr. Naseer's comment, disclosed well.
arif Jan 08, 2013 06:31am
We request to Dawn Group, Please remember, we are muslim we have identity of parents. Do you wish our nation can be like Europe/America where nobody know who is his or her father. Please take care in future.
Respect a writer Jan 09, 2013 12:14pm
Audience who could grab the meaning of this article had already understood it.Good job by the writer..But unfortunately it didnt cater the audience of 3 aurtein 3 kahaniyaan.
Chanakya Jan 09, 2013 03:19pm
Since when did the journalism become pawn of any religion?
Chanakya Jan 10, 2013 06:27am
Bingo, Pradip.
hinduismglance Jan 11, 2013 04:53am
Suppression of human emotions is very dangerous.Whatever one feels,one must show or else one can never be free spirit.
Jigglypuff Jan 10, 2013 11:12am
I'm sorry to bust your bubble, but women in the west do not have trouble marrying after the age of 30. that's generally a dirty, old school eastern way of thinking who only give value to women as child bearers and nothing more. this sick obsession with women and their age is archaic and it's time it change. more so, if what you said was true, divorcees and 40+ women in this country would not be remarried and yet, so many of them are. almost all the women in my family (living in the west) had their first baby after 30, no issues whatsoever. some of them didn't even marry til 30. the way the world is today, most girls in their right mind do not want or have children between 18-25. like me for example. i'm still in graduate school and babies are the last thing on my mind. luckily, i know plenty of young men my age who don't have an obsession solely with a woman's age or her baby bearing abilities. there's more to life than babies. yes, animal nature is there in the roles of females and males, but human behavior has evolved greatly. men are not just animals looking for receptacles to impregnate like junglees and women are not just waiting for the biggest baddest toughest man to come by and sweep them on their feet or produce babies with. some of your observations are a few centuries old.