Begums Settle Scores
The Forgotten Role of the Middle Class - 2
By Akhtar Mahmud Faruqui
The formation of APMA - All Pakistan Male Association - with the avowed aim of supplementing APWA’ s efforts for a nobler cause could hardly pass as a non-event.
So as the husbands savored their first spasm of freedom, the begums lined up their forces to scuttle the fledgling Association. And in this subtle male-female confrontation came a fresh proof of Newton’s third law of motion - every action has a reaction.
“Bol kae lab azad haen terae,” came the emotional Faiz Ahmad Faiz exhortation from a peelay hath enthusiast at one of the begum get-togethers. Recalling school-day rhymes, the bewitching speaker poetically waxed eloquence:
Trust no Future, however pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury the dead!
Act, act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God overhead!
“Bravo,” said a portly lady in the chair. “APMA is tragically on a regressive course . Haven’t man globally acted on Professor Higgin’s famous refrain in My Fair Lady,’Why can’t a woman be more like a man?’ Fifty percent of prospective scientists in the Soviet Union are women and we make up forty percent of the US media corps. The superpower status of the two countries, Ladies, is a point to ponder!”
As she continued, her buxom frame and charming affectations betrayed her background. She was a ‘bureaucrat begum.’ “When we courted marriage, my silly husband was almost a write-off. His promotion had been stalled. Papa had to lobby and I labored to rehabilitate him. He was then a pineapple of politeness. Perhaps he knew the way to kill a woman with kindness. It was roses, roses all the way. Now suddenly he has the audacity to co-launch APMA!”
A young begum, ten years younger than her hubby, then chose to speak. With a tear in her eye, she applauded the marriage institution thus: “I am no feminine iconoclast but I do agree that marriage is a man-made hell on earth where all married women are damned to suffer.” The petite lady quoted from a women’s journal to portray her anguish.
“My hubby unfortunately happens to be one of those cases which are beyond help, medically or magically. His disposition never improves though I have tried everything from distemper shots to pirs, fakirs…”
She was pretty, pretty as Tahira Syed and every heart in the gathering appeared to share her grief. Her marriage had begun with a real coup de foudre but was now sadly perched on the rocks. Despite her husband’s joggared, jeaned, and hair-dyed outfit, the fatherly image persisted. And so did the mental blocks. The nonchalance was mutual.
The beauty in distress was succeeded by a nouveau riche begum who prided on transforming a ‘nobody’ into a ‘somebody.’ Regretfully, her husband continued to remain a great disappointment and passed his time in ignoble sloth. Every morning, he would lounge around unshaved after a leisurely breakfast or listlessly tinker with the car. He faithfully avoided the ‘right’ circles and little realized how parties lubricate business. To her repeated supplications, he had one stolid reply:
“If thou must love me, let it be for naught. Except for love’s sake only.”
Next, it was the turn of the social worker begum to bemoan her weary lot. “My husband is a recluse. He is little known, save as my soul-mate. Yet he jealously disowns this identity and claims himself a ‘have been.’ You see so many of such have-beens in the US. He has no exalted opinion of my strivings to usher a social change but excels in the role of a hermit. Despite this decided setback, I stick to my task, clinging steadfastly to Burke’s inspirational wisdom: “He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper.”
“Bravo,” interjected the lady in the chair.
It was now the turn of the working begum to inspire the gathering. “I am an absolute drudge with an eighteen-hour working day, a double-shift performer so to say. The office boss has his own eccentricities and so has Mian Sahib. No respite, no rest. And then I have to put up with the children’s precocious prattle. Two checks on the first are some consolation. I wonder who really is the weaker sex.”
“Aren’t you the editor of the local paper?” asked the bureaucrat begum in the chair. The answer was in the affirmative.
“Have you seen this piece by one of your male colleagues?” The title appeared tantalizing. ‘Begums of the world unite!’
“The call is noble but the contents are slanderous,” so saying the weather-beaten charming she-dragon went on to read the article’s contents:
“…seriously, begums in Pakistan, whether the wives of senior and military officers or of political personalities in power, are inclined to think of themselves as national housewives , ordering people about, enjoying official facilities, treating their husbands’ PA as their own, and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Administration experts say that more than half the corruption in the country owes itself to their demands and whims. This may be an exaggeration but I can name half a dozen members of the defunct CSP who lost their jobs because of their wives…”
“Outrageous. Many more than six CSPs have lost their jobs,” fumed Her Domestic Majesty.
“Why blame the journalists alone,” interjected a professor of literature. “Even dramatists, poets and writers will have to own this impeachment. Shakespeare had the audacity to claim ‘Woman, Thy name is frailty!’ Monstrous words. I wonder what prompted Shaw to resolve to ‘dig him up and throw stones at him.’ With our unmistakable gains will someone now seriously attempt writing ‘Taming of the Sahib’? We have seen how well men act as qabachas .”
Haseena (Moin) could be asked. Her characters are so entrancing!” approvingly observed the portly lady in the chair as a radiant smile played on her lips.
She asked the next begum to narrate her woes. “My husband used to be a plucky, chirpy character but ever since he came to the States (US) he has transformed into a dullard. He has long spells of abstraction and sits oblivious to everything that happens or passes around him.”
“Good for you,” commented the lady in the chair.
“No, a wife needs her husband’s attention as much as daily shopping at Macy’s and JCPenney,” the speaker explained.
“We lived in a posh locality in Karachi but there was no electricity, no water. I believe he misses Pakistan. There are no blackouts and the water keeps running in the tap. He would probably be at home here if we went without water and power. ‘ Ab to yahain marna hae ,’ he often says as if coming to the US to DIE was the sole purpose of his pilgrimage to this country.”
Meanwhile, the scheming husbands got air of the proceedings and were visibly alarmed. Reformation, nay, retribution at home again! They couldn’t add to the pleasing punishment that men so willingly endure. So a few APMA enthusiasts agreed to approach the begums in a peaceable way.
“Disband APMA,” came the peremptory demand as the begums appeared in no mood to be jested with.
Could APMA serve as an appellant group for erring husbands only? “No, not certainly. APWA will act to tackle your problems if you try not to take a tiff,” said the bureaucrat begum.
As the harried hubbies feigned forced courage the shrewish begum observed: “Just to settle your nerves let me quote a piece from the Holy Qur’an: Men shall have the benefits of what they achieve and acquire and women shall have the benefit of that which they similarly achieve and acquire.”
Religion has been an encouragement rather than an impediment to independent enquiry. As she pontificated, her enfeebled monarch stood beside her like a pet poodle. He had been superseded during the brief estrangement!
It was time for the benevolent protectress to act.
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