Sunday, 12 July 2009

Silent heroines - Post 45

My Feudal Lord by Tehmina Durrani certainly made Kacper think; more so, it challenged his views on situation of women in certain parts of the world. Obviously, before reading the book, he had had a good understanding that women are frequently underprivileged, neglected, not empowered, and subject to abuse, but this is My Feudal Lord that forced Kacper to imagine how lives of such women really looked like.

While reading the novel, Kacper got really upset quite a few times. ‘Men are bustards…’ – angrily and uncontrollably crossed his mind regularly throughout each and every chapter. Realising that the question of abuse and inequality of women is a very difficult and sensitive issue to be tackled, as it involved cultural, social and often religious considerations, he also felt that men consciously used the cultural factors to be their excuse of mistreating their wives, daughters, even mothers and other women far too often.

Kacper thought of women that he knew that suffered profoundly, just because of their gender. He didn’t need to look far. His own mother, both grandmothers, aunts, and some of his cousins did experience physical abuse from those, who they loved the most – their husbands, boyfriends, partners, but also fathers…It is true that while most of these courageous women, whom were in Kacper’s family eventually managed to stand up for their rights and take control of their rights, their fights were always dramatic, and often heartbreaking for themselves, and for other people that they cared for. ‘Now, if gender based violence is still a reality in Poland – where people are reasonably educated, and where abused women have to their disposal fairly many official, and less official tools, systems and resources to reinforce fair treatment and personal protection … how difficult it must be in places, where much less of similar systems are in place…?’ – the question kept on bothering Kacper’s consciousness.

‘Kacper, are you hungry? Shall we eat lunch together’ Ghazala encouraged him to go down to their office canteen. Ghazala was an extremely beautiful middle-aged woman, whose origins were of Lahore – the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab. The way she dressed, talked, and behaved showed that she must have come from a very affluent and wealthy family. Kacper soon learnt that Ghazala was very well travelled. She spent her childhood in various countries in Africa and Europe, where she lived with her family, whose head – Ghazala’s father worked for the diplomatic service of Pakistan. She was educated in some best schools, one could ever dream of, with her master’s degree obtained from the Harvard University in the USA.

‘I love my chicken kebabs here…the food is so well prepared and tasty’ Kacper started the conversation. ‘You should also try our chicken biryani’ Ghazala kindly suggested. ‘How is your week so far?’ she then asked. ‘I can see that you are very busy. It is difficult to speak to you, you are always running around doing something’ noticed Ghazala. ‘Things are fine, really. I am a bit tired, but things are actually going well’ assured Kacper. ‘Besides work, I have just finished reading My Feudal Lord…Do you know, which book I am referring to?’ asked Kacper, hoping that Ghazala would be happy to tell him what she thought of the novel. ‘Of course, I know it Kacper, many women in Pakistan know this book…’ she looked into Kacper’s eyes. ‘And what did you think of it?’ she asked. ‘Well, I loved it, but also found it disturbing, very disturbing’ he answered. Ghazala smiled… ‘It might be disturbing, but for us here, it is just a fair description of what ladies in this country go through every day, what our society finally needs to confront and deal with’ she noticed. ‘You will be interested to know that I know the author of the book personally’ she added with a smile. ‘Wow… how come?’ Kacper was impressed and curious. ‘I will tell you some other time…’ Ghazala’s face suddenly saddened. She remained silent for a while. Kacper didn’t want to rush the conversation, so he concentrated his attention on his plate. ‘You know by now that I come from a very privileged background in so many ways… I travelled, received impeccable education, had money: more that I could ever spend…’ she started. Ghazala smiled at Kacper and went on talking, talking about her ordeal that she and her family went through…

When Ghazala went to the United States, her father already decided that right at the end of her course, she would return to Pakistan and get married. Her husband-to-be was 45 – over twenty years older than Ghazala. He was a very wealthy landowner, who seemed to rule half of Punjab. He also possessed properties in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, and Australia. Ghazala’s father couldn’t imagine a better candidate to marry her daughter. Hence the marriage deal was struck quickly. The only problem was that Ghazala was not at all aware of what fate her father was preparing for her. Needless to say, she had never heard of, not to mention meeting her future husband before they married. When she finally graduated, and was a proud holder of her degree, the news of her marriage was revealed to her. ‘But dad, I can’t marry now…You educated me, you let me experience the world, you taught me to be independent, and now you want me to get married to some man that I have never heard of… someone who is 25 years older than I am…? Never!’ she finally exclaimed. It was the first time in her life that she was hit… ‘Kacper, I was beaten many times in my life later, my husband bet me regularly – it was all horrible, but this first slap in my face, the slap from my own father, whom I had trusted and loved so much hurt me the most. It fact, it still hurts me’ she added with a profound sadness.

Ghazala was forced to marry, but she didn’t turn out to be a wife that is easy to have powers over. ‘Right at start, I told my husband that I would never love him, and that I wanted to have as little to do with him as possible…’ she explained. Her resilience was punished. She was regularly beaten and abused. The husband’s family tried to keep her locked in their mansion, limit her movements, reduce contacts with friends, and her own family. Ghazala became a prisoner, a prisoner of her own husband. Soon, she gave birth to their first son. ‘He was my sunshine, he made my suffering bearable’ she emotionally admitted to Kacper. When she looked after her newborn, she decided that her ordeal needs to finish. Ghazala knew that she needed to do something that could make her happy. ‘I came to a point when I only saw two options: either doing something to liberate myself, or I was going to die. I was ready to commit a suicide – this is how desperate I was!’ – Kacper noticed that her eyes became wet.

‘Kacper, you can’t imagine what was happening, when I filed for a divorce. I was abused even more, my father threatened me, he would cut all ties with me and he wouldn’t allow me see my own mother’ she recalled. Ghazala was lucky though to have some good university friends, who lived in England. They offered her financial support, but also in case she needed it, shelter in their house in London’s Ealing. ‘What I was really disappointed about, was that even if Pakistan officially doesn’t accept the abuse of women, and there are laws protecting women… they really mean nothing… These laws are made by men, and executed by men’ she added bitterly. She then explained how she lost rights to custody of her son; she was accused to be a horrible and incapable mother. She was stripped from all possessions, and left literally penniless within days. ‘It took me years to stand back on my feet again…I was in London for over a year, doing nothing… just trying to heal…’ – she said.

Her friends in London became her new family. She soon was granted an asylum in the UK, and managed to start working. She became a social worker, and provided counselling services to troubled youngsters in London area. Then, she met a handsome Lebanese guy, whom she fell in love with, and to whom she soon got married. ‘I was happy for a first time after so many years’ she recalled. ‘All what I needed was my first son, and my mother… I didn’t miss my father yet, and I certainly didn’t miss my first husband’ – she added. At that point, Ghazala learnt of her father’s death. He died of a heart attack, on his visit to Pakistan. She explained to Kacper that it was a very strange experience. ‘I suffered so much because of him, but when I learnt that he was dead, I felt like a part of me died too. I somehow loved him, and felt so sorry not to be able even to attend his funeral’ – noticed Ghazala. However, the death of the father made it possible for Ghazala and her mother to reunite again. The young couple with Ghazala’s mother settled in Bristol, in western England. They were also blessed with their son, Ghazala’s second baby. Then, she learnt of a job opportunity in Pakistan. She was recruited as a gender consultant in one of the British charities working in South Asia. Ghazala and her family decided to move to Islamabad. ‘This time, I returned to Pakistan as a free and independent woman… and such I have remained until today’ she finished her story proudly.

‘And one more thing Kacper… Just think of it, if life treated me in such a cruel way… imagine how difficult it is for all those women – millions of them, in this country, who come from more traditional families, without means, without education, and awareness of their own rights…This is why our work is so important…this is why your work is important too Kacper… We need to do all in our power to help these silent heroines…at least a bit… knowing that every little helps!’

It was time to finish their lunch break. Kacper went upstairs to his office. His mind was working hard thinking of Ghazala’s pleas of working hard for women in Pakistan. ‘What could I do? How can I contribute at least a little, to make lives of women at least a bit easier?’ Kacper didn’t know the answers, but was sure he would not let it go… he would try best he could!

PS. Kacper is watching Obama’s visit to Ghana.


  1. I have read that book years ago because of a recommendation from my aunt (she lived with her family in Pakistan while her husband was working for the UN there), and it was really shocking to me. I have known women who have been physically or verbally abused by men in their life (even mass media here has created a word for the assasination of women by men, "femicide"), and at least here, it's much easier to file a divorce or a complaint to the police, and the woman would actually be heard. It's a sad situation that women from Pakistan and similar countries are living, and it doesn't discriminate on the basis of education or socioeconomic level. Even though I always say that the best way to stop situations like that is through effective education, I simply don't know what I would do there.

  2. What an odd tale, that of Ghazala. And not one that you hear very often in the western media. Most newspapers concentrate on the women wanting to stay in the UK, than on the ones wanting to go back and contribute to their society. Your opening paragraphs were very true. I have often referred to that problem myself on my blog and like you I have loads of female relatives who have gone through similar situations.

    I will be looking out for that book now.

    Greetings from London.

  3. Cuban: I agree, the story of Ghazala is very unusual. It is however quite similar to the story of the heroine of the book. I am sure that you will enjoy it, when you have a chance to read it.

    Cristobal: It is interesting to know that you have got some insight to Pakistan, and in a way I am glad that you are sharing some of my frustrations on how to handle the issue of gender equity... Will let you know how things go.

    Thank you both for leaving comments.


  4. I called up my local library yesterday and they can order the book from another borough. I will have to leave it until I come back from my hols but will give it a try. Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  5. Niesamowite... Cała historia i sposób, w jaki ją opisałeś. Wielkie dzięki. Na pewno przeczytam tę książkę. Wierzę, że wymyślisz dużo dobrych rozwiązań, które pomogą wszystkim tym kobietom. Powodzenia!!! Pozdrowienia z Polski :-)

  6. I pomyśleć, że to u nas tak bardzo krzyczą o równouprawnienie, które u nas istnieje realnie...