Today is my 40th wedding anniversary. As with any other special day, today also I expect to meet my husband, Imran. This has become a kind of a ritual, as Imran visits me at my grave on every special day, to lessen his suppressed guilt, while I sleeping on the other side of this marble witness his weakest side, which he has always hidden from the world, himself included. I am Hussaina Khan, née Afridi, and this is my story of suppressed anger.
July 17, 1977 was not any ordinary day for me. It was the day when for the first time in fifteen years I had given myself permission to believe in happy endings or shall I say – a happy beginning. Any normal 23 years old girl would not be as surprised and excited for her marriage, as I was, because for past fifteen years I have only seen shock, terror and sympathy in other people’s eyes, but now for the first time I met someone, who had only love for me in his eyes. I was unsure, was that love for me or for the girl with beautiful eyes in burqa. The mystery was dense and the suspense was killing me.
My father and mother were the most radical people of their time. The moment my Dad saw me for the first time, he fell in love with me. The matron said that I was the most beautiful baby she had seen in her life. So beautiful was I that my parents named me Hussaina and promised me that they would never have another child as fairy children needed special care and attention.
But, as the time progressed, they realized that I was no fairy, but a devil in disguise. An extremely naughty and accident prone child I was that my parents began living in the shadow of fear for my safety. When I was just eight years old, their worst fear came true. While playing cricket with other kids in the street, I was chasing a ball and ran towards the main road, oblivious of the fast moving vehicles. Then, I don’t know what happened next, but when I next opened my eyes, the calendar had gone forward by a month and legs were in deep cast and my face completely bandaged. In spite of inscrutable pain, I did not lose my humor to the accident. I was looking like a mummy. This comment released a fresh batch of tears and laughter (I guess it was their first in the past many days) from my parents. While my mother continued with the crying, my Dad took to himself to explain me the gravity of the situation. He began preparing me, to meet my new self, hiding behind those bandages. From his tone I could make out that this NEW me is not going to be as good as the OLD me.
Over the next few days, my bandages were changed and every time I swallowed something, I could taste blood. I was a terrified 8-year-old kid, who just wanted to return home, a place she knew that would keep her safe. After postponing my mirror meeting ceremony for ages, my Dad gingerly handed over a mirror to me; and I felt unconscious. How could I become someone like this? Nothing, except for my eyes, were like angelic Hussiana I used to be. I saw an ugly girl, with rotten teeth and gums staring at me. I cried a lot that day. My parents were one with me in my sorrow. My mother’s warnings kept chiming in my ears, Allah gives punishment to disobedient children. And my punishment was going to be a permanent agony.
After another few days, I was strong enough to go to school, but I opposed. I didn’t want people to laugh at me. However, my father managed to convince me. He told me that if humans had only face values, then wise, wrinkled-faced old would be first to get killed. The basis of any civilization is human values, knowledge, creativity; beauty doesn’t count. His words charged me like how a moth gets charged and pulled to the light, when it very well knows that light means death, but a death worthy of dying for as before dying, its eyes and soul are filled with light, divine light. Similarly, I knew that school meant a torture for me, but an agony I need to endure so that my soul gets filled me knowledge and wisdom.
As anticipated, my first day at school was horrible. Teachers had already prepared the kids about me, so I didn’t face horror in them, but a more detestable feeling, sympathy in their eyes. In spite of continuous urging, no child was ready to sit with me, as if I was some plague. I knew I was paying price for disobedience and I didn’t want to raise the bar for punishment, so I listened to my parents and continued with my schooling. Since no one played with me anymore, I busied myself in books. Teachers were kind and they would let me sit with them in my free periods and this helped me to get additional knowledge, both in academics and also in human values. Over the next nine years of my school life, I have been the best in academics and school rewarded me with scholarship for my Engineering.
Not many women entered the coveted world of Engineering, and the numbers were even more discouraging in the Electrical Engineering department. However, I loved it. The whole atmosphere was charged up and I felt alive and hopes of endless possibilities began booming in my bosom. I was a topper in my stream and was sent for a six-months training program to New Delhi at Bharat Electricals Limited to get a hands-on-knowledge on practical Electrical Engineering. The best six months of my life. I made friends for the first time in many years. They did not judge me on my looks, rather they saw only the beautiful mind. Working alongside geniuses in the field of electrical engineering, I felt my knowledge increasing and a desire gave birth to do something worthwhile for the society, so that when I meet my maker he can forgive me.
On my return journey home, I saw sitting opposite an irresistibly handsome boy. He took fancy of my eyes and hands and started making small talks. I was polite and embarrassed. I knew he was not judging me by my brains but by beauty, which I no longer had. With every passing minute, I felt more and more uncomfortable. I just wanted to jump off the moving train and save both of us from embarrassment. But, to my horror, he followed me up till my home.
He had moved into a house in my neighborhood. I never wore burqa to my college, and every day while leaving home I would see him staring towards my house. I would blush and run away. This continued for a little while and a small hope of love made house in my heart. I disillusioned myself that may be he is a real man, who cares less for look. That small blip of hope grew into a mansion when my parents told me that he wanted to marry me and would love to exchange vows the very next day. I was in cloud nine. My knight in shining armor had finally come to pull me out of this life of punishment. I began counting hours. July 17, my liberation day.
But the bubble burst even before it could take a flight. I can never forget Imran’s horrified expression when he first saw me. He didn’t utter a single word, and left me. As soon as he left the room, my parents walked in. They tried to console me, saying that Imran would return before morning. But, I knew that there would be no tomorrow. Early next day, I got ready for college. I still had a final semester to pass before I could realize my dream, the dream that required my brain, not beauty. My parents argued with me, urged me to stay back. But, I had to leave because I need to bring some distance between yesterday and today. I had to go somewhere and cry, I had an ailing heart to soothe.
Over the next few months I poured every ounce of energy to pass my exam. I didn’t give myself a moment’s free time, for the fear that my heart would start thinking about Imran. I hated him, cursed him. I wanted him to burn in same hell, in which I was burning. It gave me little peace when I saw same hatred in my parents’ eyes. Now, our focus was my career. I was topper again and my college had offered me a job of reader. My parents too insisted that I take this job, as they were growing old and needed me.
Then one day, I received a note from my father. It just had two lines, “Return home now. Imran is here.”. But, sometimes words carry much more meaning than they are actually intended for. I could see the plea in their words. I returned home and my mother met me at the door and told me not to be bold and do anything stupid that I’ll regret later. This was the second accident of my life, and I gone back into coma, and this time, never to return. All those past months I thought that I could only be mad at Imran, but the anger I felt for him was nothing in comparison to the resentment I felt for my parents then. I was in terrible rage.
When I walked into my room, my parents left us to discuss things. My blood boiled further. How could they leave me with this beast? But, when I looked at him, I felt sorry for him. Handsome, he surely was, but his gentleman like attribute were more pronounced then. He had the option to divorce me and continue with his life, but he chose to respect those vows. He came back, if not for me, then for a woman’s honor. I couldn’t help, but started respecting him. I could sense his unease whenever he looked at me, so I covered my face. As if this was something he wanted to tell me all evening. He was at once at ease and asked me if I could choose the lifestyle of hiding my face, then I can stay with him. Even though I was a modern girl, but such deep was my anger for my parents at that instant, that I agreed to his ‘terms and conditions’, just to irk my parents.
I just didn’t give up my freedom to face the world, I also gave up on my career. In my anger I realized that I have hurt myself the most. I have compromised with all my dreams just to punish my parents. This shattered me from inside. I started hating myself. Such deep was my anger that to punish myself, I shunned all contacts with the outside world. I had busied myself with children and taking care of the house. Imran’s career soared to new heights every day and this made him more and more busy. I allowed myself to get lost in my domestic affairs.
On many occasions, I felt Imran wanted to tell me something. I too wanted to tell him so many things. But, most importantly, I wanted to tell him, that I have forgiven him. Rather, I was never angry with him. I have always respected him, for what he did for his wife of few hours. But, neither did he get the courage, nor I received any encouragement. My deepest desire was that he should face me and look at me without parda and talk. Talk until all that is in his heart comes out and he feels liberated. But, we both were in our own islands, challenged by our own fights. His against his guilt and mine against my resentment towards my parents and life. We always postponed our communication until tomorrow. Then one day, there was no more tomorrow. I had a nervous breakdown and died within few days.
Now, I rest without any parda, with my head towards Mecca and see Imran sitting by my side. He has been saying sorry to me for past 15 years and I have told him innumerable times that I was never angry with him. But, he can’t listen to me. My heart breaks to see him in tears and spilling words. Words that tells me of his deepest regret, his moments of joy, his sorrow, his loneliness. Yes, his loneliness. My death didn’t bring it upon him, but my marriage did. My anger and his guilt brought loneliness in our life. All our life we lived together, but alone.