Fate Feminist II
Years later, when I came back from boarding school after spending five years away from home, a neighbor (a woman in her late twenties) committed suicide. When my mom told me about her death, I forget to bite to the red juicy apple, I was eating. She was a person I had met just the other day and she had laughed like anything when I cracked one of my silly jokes. And now she was gone like she never existed before. I knew she would never take her own life. Later, I heard rumors about her being murdered. No one dared to interfere in her family matters and it was settled down between her parents and in-laws. I started to ask people about her life. Some said that there had been problems going on with her husband. I couldn’t sleep for nights. I kept on thinking about her, her laughing face kept coming back. The most unfair thing was that no one was talking about it anymore, even if someone talked that would speak in whispers. The whispers dipped in doubts about her character made me even madder. Years later, I felt like Jawad, the guy from my childhood memory, so helpless to do anything about his drowning wife. I couldn’t do anything about her death. There was no official investigation or police report. It just ended there. She was buried with her story; no one knew exactly what happened. The tragedy became a story months later, like the woman’s story from my childhood.
I remembered the story throughout my life, I saw myself growing up; I saw my granny getting older and weaker. I saw things and memories fading away, and new memories forming. I saw people dying, wives being beaten up and girls being married off without their consent. But there were times when I was so happy. Having dinner with my family is one of the best occasions I remember, when everyone sits and eats, laughs and talks. On one such evening, I got to know that the woman, ‘Shahida’ from the woman’s story was the mother of my uncle whom with I was so frank and went fishing when I was a kid. I cried like a kid that night hugging my granny. I saw my uncles in tears. I witnessed the sadness creeping over the family. It was then that I promised myself silently not to be just another Shahina.
From that day the story means something else to me, I see the women of my family survivors of the profound patriarchal abyss that is in our culture. I started to admire my granny and all other women; I don’t know what they personally might have been through but they are one the less still shackled to that chasm, a male dominated society. Their world revolves around their men, family and the society; they have no life of their own.
My cousin is one of the many whose entire world begins and ends with her father. She’s timid, introvert and never dares to talk about her life. One day when her father made a decision about her quitting the school. I asked her to protest; she refused to talk, saying he wouldn’t listen to her. He makes all decisions about her life for her, her school, her subjects, sometimes even her friends can be. I asked her to stand up for herself, but she refused saying that she was afraid of the consequences. I said, “You know no one is going to stand up for you, right? Like Shahina aunty, you will be a silent and forgotten story if you refuse to make them hear your voice”. She never said anything to anyone. In our family she is referred to as the most obedient daughter. I on the other hand, used to argue with my uncle to let her go school and let her make her own decisions, but he would say, “you have changed a lot since you started boarding school.”
Boarding school-- landing among total strangers when I was thirteen was a great relief for my family and for me. For them I was going to be controlled in a strict environment, one they hoped would make me discipline and obedient. They thought I would be influenced by other girls and become the traditional girl they wanted. They hoped I would stop playing boys’ games and finally understand the meaning of being a girl in our society.
On the contrary I was relieved that my parents and family wouldn’t be around to dictate each and every little thing I do. I could dress like I wanted; I could play what I wanted. I won’t be beaten for playing cricket with my cousins. I would read what I wanted. I would be me.
For the first time in my life people have started to see me as an individual, “Aqsa”, people have even started to call me by my first name. The “Kiran”, the rebellious daughter was replaced by a person with a strong sense self. I started to see myself as an individual, not just a daughter of my father or a girl in our family. Being around girls without my mother’s restrictions, I finally started to speak my mind without getting beaten up. I started to participate in sports. I was a fine athlete, won many games. Confidence came with victories. My schoolmates and teachers started to know me as an athlete, a strong, outgoing and exuberant person. I read books of Sidney Sheldon, the books where the protagonists are female characters. While reading those books I would feel like I am one of them fighting the suffocating cultural clutches of what to do, what to wear, how to respond, how to eat, how to breathe. I started to enjoy reading fictions and other literary books and thought about them. I thought about me in the society, I thought about my aunt Shahina and my cousin. I felt liberated.
Freedom of choosing what to read, how to dress, further made me a person of my own choices. Then Moving to Islamabad and studying in a co-ed school gave me its own set of challenges to deal with. Moving around your male classmates and them staring at you like you are a person with horns made me uncomfortable. Once on my way to college a guy, with black shoe and red laces, started to follow me. I did not look at his face. I just observed the shoes approaching, sometimes walking on my side, some times ahead of me. I thought it was a misunderstanding, and shooed away the thought of asking him why he was following me. The next day also he followed me to the bus stop. I ignored, telling myself it was a mere coincidence. The following day the black shoe with laces walking ahead of me proved me I was wrong. The shoes suddenly stopped in a narrow street and turned around. I felt sweat trickle on my forehead despite the harsh chill of December. He was standing in front of me, blocking my way. My eyes traveled from his feet to his face. I saw a guy with black hair and an annoying grin. He was staring at me. The first thought that popped into my mind was, “run Aqsa run”. I stayed there despite the growing fear inside me. I gathered courage to stare back in to his eyes. He stared at me; I stared back steadily without a shadow of fear on my face. His smiles started to fade away when he saw no fear in my eyes and he walked away without saying anything. From that day onwards I started to walk with my head high. The fear was gone. Confidence to stand up and stare back into the eyes became my weapon against the uncomfortable stares and eve teasing. I sometimes thought about aunt Shahina and whispered to myself, “It’s okay not to do things expected of us. Sometimes we have to fight to be ourselves; sometimes staring back into the eyes fear makes us strong.”
The legacy of violence and oppression never stopped, every day of my life, I have seen people beating up their wives, daughters and sisters. I have seen people killing daughter-in-laws; I have heard of women committing suicides, but no one ever remember them anymore. It has become so normal. I have been to people to find out what’s going on, but no one talks about them anymore. Their stories are buried with their bodies, 6 feet beneath the earth, and no one is going to dig the six feet of dirt to tell you the story.
My story continues, I tell it every day with my confidence, and my voice, my writing and my willingness to meet the eyes of everyone I meet. Mine will not be a story forgotten. And as long as I remember my Aunt, hers and others will go on being told, to my children and to theirs.