"Death is better than divorce"
When I heard that Nariman*, my bubbly childhood friend, was back in town, I was overjoyed beyond belief. I looked forward to a time full of fun and laughter and doing every thing under the sun.
When we were younger, I actually believed that sitting still caused Nariman physical pain, because she was always so excited. But three years after her wedding, she sits old and haggard, her eyes devoid of all laughter, her gait lacking spirit, and her voice like a mere rustle of dead leaves on parched mud. What led to the transition is not the fact that she got divorced and all the monstrosities that led to it, but what ensued after.
Sure, she lost her self respect in an abusive household.
Yes, she also lost her unborn child and any chance of ever having one.
Sure, she was tortured every day.
But in our society, she could still walk with her head held high, because she was a ‘married woman’.
The day her husband beat her to a pulp - enough for her to have a miscarriage in the sixth month - the only day she retaliated, he said the three words and instead of feeling liberated, her weak body sank further into the ground.
Bleeding half to death, she screamed and tried to stop Waqqas* from uttering the final and binding words, but he didn’t pay any heed. He pushed her out of his house - a neighbour called for an ambulance.
Nariman recalls waking up after what seemed like an eternity - the nurse said it was only two days. A little voice in her heart told her it was good riddance, but that voice grew silent as she overheard the nurses behind the curtain, discussing the patient on bed 32 - how a man brought a bleeding woman to the hospital, she was pregnant and her husband beat the kid out of her.
The older voice from across the curtain said:
“He must have realised the kid wasn’t his. Which father would kill his own child and endanger the life of his wife so heavily pregnant?”
So it began.
Nariman thought her family would understand; she rang the bell beside her bed in the hospital and asked if someone had contacted her parents. She was told a man had dumped her on the emergency stretcher and left; they had no details.
Nariman gave them her family’s contact and her mother came.
The first words uttered by her mother were:
"Why did he divorce you? What did you do now?"
No sympathy for the lost child; no love for the woman lying on the hospital bed, her daughter.
"Ammi, he got drunk again and started hitting me..."
Nariman wanted to say more, but her mother interrupted:
"Oh my God! What will I tell the family? How will I face society? Oh Nariman, how will I get suitors for your younger sisters?"
"Ammi, I am in pain. Please call the nurse to put me back to sleep..."
Nariman faked tiredness and closed her eyes, tears rolling down her cheeks as she realised that she had now become Razia* Phuppo.
Her aunt, Razia Phuppo was ridiculed all her life for being a divorcee. Every one blamed her for the failed marriage in spite of the third degree burns she bore on her hands.
Nariman could remember when Kaneez Khala would not let Razia Phuppo put henna on Tayyaba's hands at her mehndi ceremony, because Razia Phuppo may rub off her misfortune and bad luck on the new bride. Razia Phuppo was presumably "nahusat" personified.
Divorced at 26, and extremely beautiful, Razia Phuppo couldn’t find a decent life partner, and had to settle for a man 15 years older than her who was also a good two inches shorter than her and suffered from polio.
For the eight years that Razia Phuppo’s second husband lived, he ridiculed and tortured her.
People conveniently forgot to invite her to happy occasions like birthdays, weddings, baby showers etcetera.
Women would speculate about the reasons for Razia Phuppo's early dismissal from married life:
Was she a virgin when she got married?
Was she having extra marital affairs?
Was she a good home maker?
All these questions had only incriminating answers; nobody ever saw merit in her explanations.
Now, Nariman saw Razia Phuppo's face morphing into hers.
She decided not to be another victimised divorcee, so she moved to another country. Men always saw her as an easy piece of flesh because they only saw her as a deprived woman. Women were scarcely different from back home; after spending six months abroad she came back.
She had accepted that she was the new Razia Phuppo and nothing would change that; she had no choice but to drink this poison every day.
People label her current state as a time to repent because of her misdeeds, not their gross injustices.
*Name has been changed.
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