When 'sharing' her husband was her best choice
"Baji, can I leave early today? I have a wedding to attend - my husband's wedding."
“Baji I need to leave early today.”
I was finishing my breakfast, a few weeks ago, with the morning paper in front of me when my maid announced, polishing the dining chairs with more gusto than usual.
“Why Shada? You need to go the market?” I asked her casually.
Shada has been with me for several years and over the time I have managed to develop a friendly rapport with her, given her cleanliness, punctuality and zeal to create a better life for her children. She lives in a small, three room house with her postal worker husband and her three young children. Both the husband and wife want to see their children educated and hence, are so dedicated and hardworking. Moreover, to be precise, she started work with me when she only had one child.
“No baji! Not to the market. I need to go to a wedding,” the usually composed Shada informed me excitedly.
“Who’s wedding?” I asked making small talk but still more focused on the latest news than Shada’s afternoon plans. However, her reply made the paper literally drop out of my hands.
“My husband’s wedding.”
I nearly choked on my marmalade toast, I asked again,
“Your husband’s ...??!!”
Shada was probably expecting me to react this way so she remained composed and waited for me to catch my breath,
“Are you crazy? What are you saying?” I sputtered - politics and breakfast forgotten.
“Baji, the family has been looking for a man for Asghar’s widow cousin for a while now. They suggested it last week and after much deliberation, Asghar and I agreed.”
At this point, I was beyond bewilderment and confusion. I demanded the whole story.
“Baji, Shaheen is Asghar’s phuppo’s (paternal aunt) daughter. Her husband died in a train accident two years ago. Shaheen has two young children. She had begged her in laws to let her stay with them because she had nowhere to go and no way to support her children. However, they refused saying it was too expensive to support her family. So, she returned home but her mother is old and depends on her son for a living. Though, Shaheen is young but being a widow with two children there is little chance that she will be able to get married again to a decent person. You know how impossible it is for a single woman to survive in this jungle of a world. Our community is very supportive of such women and the elders in the family decided that the only way to settle Shaheen’s problem was to request someone to make her his second wife. Few of the men who are able to support two wives in our community, even within our meagre means, are already married to two women. So, the question was presented to Asghar two weeks back. There is no pressure but we are obliged to help our community members in genuine need.”
“So, why don’t you just go to a rishta wali (matchmaker) and try to find a husband for her?” I asked incredulously.
“Baji you and I both know that this will never work. Unmarried girls are finding it impossible to find a husband nowadays. Plus the boys/men are looking for heavy dowries and what not. Shaheen has nothing to attract a new man. Plus, there is no guarantee that he will also accept her two children. This is a genuine problem which only the family community can resolve.”
“So you are ok with it?” I asked.
“Baji our lives are dedicated to our children’s future, welfare and the betterment of our family. We stand up for each other. I cannot see Shaheen and her children suffer simply because I cannot share my husband. At least, now there is a chance that Shaheen’s children will have a shot at a good life.”
“But, Shada you only have three rooms and a patio that you call a home!” I argued, trying to convince her that life is already so difficult for her.
But Shada had obviously thought everything out...
“So? Shaheen and her two children will live in one room and we will still have two rooms. Shaheen is a decent, caring woman. Believe me baji, she and I have been good friends. We have already talked about everything. She is very thankful to Asghar and me for this offer. She is having a very hard time adjusting with her sister in-law. If she goes out to work, there is no one to watch her kids at home. Without working, she cannot afford to send them to school as her brother is very poor and already struggling with his three children and a sick mother, she has no other choice either.”
“But Shada this will be an added burden for Asghar and you- three more mouths to feed!” I continued my arguing.
“No baji, this arrangement has more advantages than disadvantages. She has agreed to stay home and take care of the children while Asghar and I work. Now I won’t have to rush home in the afternoon because of the children since Shaheen will be there. I can work easily and be more relaxed about the household chores. Also, I can be home with my children for the rest of the day and watch hers while she can work in the afternoon. The money will go towards the betterment of all five children. I am hopeful that it will work out for all of us.”
“How do you know Shaheen won’t change after the marriage? People say a lot of things before they are married and then just change.”
I was still adamant on making her see ‘sense’ even though the wedding was now only a few hours away.
“Well baji, anyone can change for that matter. But we can’t stop taking a chance at good opportunities simply because of this fear... can we?”
Obviously, my maid was wiser than I gave her credit for.
“Everything aside, you don’t mind sharing your husband with another woman?”
Of course, I had to ask the most important question of all.
“What is sharing baji? She is just another woman. Do you know what is harder than this? Worrying that my children are coming home to an empty house when both Asghar and I are at work. My daughter is getting older baji and you don’t know what the world is like where I live. Shaheen will not only be my husband’s second wife, she will be the gatekeeper when I am not at home. I know there will be food ready when I get home and that the house will be clean and the children under a watchful eye in my absence. And plus baji, what if my husband started seeing another woman behind my back without being married to her? Imagine how horrible it would be for my children and me. So isn’t this a better sauda (deal)?”
Who says wisdom comes with education...!
Shada left early that day but opened a whole new avenue of thoughts for me. Her community had found a constructive way to resolve a deadly social menace enveloping many of the middle class and lower class families in the country.
Really, in this crazy world of today, second marriages could resolve a myriad of problems. Shada, for all her illiteracy had shed light on a number of them in our brief morning conversation. All she had to do was overcome that age-old, ingrained notion in women’s minds that their husbands cannot be ‘shared’. Sometimes one has to look beyond oneself and do what is best for the family as a whole by analysing the larger picture... quite like Shada did.
Reflecting upon Shada’s situation and her decision further, I realised that despite her uneducated, lower class background, Shada had actually acted along the single universal instinct common to all women in the world; a mother’s concern for the safety, security and dignity of her children. Once a woman becomes a mother, she struggles to protect them at all cost. The divorcee fights to keep the children with her, the widow chooses not to marry again for their sake and the already married make decisions much like Shada.
Albeit, this may have been a tough decision, she was able to weigh her options well and choose wisely. She knew if her husband ever got involved with another woman without her consent, he wouldn’t place Shada and the children as his first priority. However, to decrease the chances of that happening, she was willing to succumb to this second marriage.
So she made her move with precise calculation, put two and two together and realised that in her situation the result was highly likely to be a 6 or an 8 than a 4.
“Well played Shada!”
I paid a silent salute to my maid and decided that this would be the topic of the day at our monthly ladies tea gathering...
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