The Forgotten Role of the Middle Class
By Akhtar Mahmud Faruqui
The news item in India Tribune, Chicago below was emailed to me by Arif Hussaini Sahib, Pakistan Link’s senior columnist, whose writings I greatly admire. His comment on the news item was illuminating: “Interesting! I could never imagine that such a development will take place in the male-dominated society of India. How far things have moved - from sati to police custody!”
” Victimized husbands unite to protect themselves
“ Hyderabad: The story is usually the other way round. But now several ‘victimized husbands’ have come together to protect themselves from their wives! Bhaarya Baadhitula Sangham, which claims to have 350 members, will hold a convention here on September 12 to launch a struggle aimed at preventing misuse of laws by women with the connivance of police.
” The association will provide a platform for those husbands who were implicated in false cases by their wives by misusing anti-dowry and other laws meant to protect women. Association office-bearer Susheel Kumar said that there were hundreds of cases of women harassing their husbands and holding their in-laws' to ransom. He said some women in connivance with police officials had implicated their husbands in false dowry cases and had even sent them behind bars.
” Another office-bearer of the association, Mohammed Ali, said the proposed convention would discuss ways to curb the misuse of law. He said the association planned to provide legal assistance to harassed husbands. He said efforts would be made to bring estranged couples together. The association claimed that the number of men who were being subjected to mental and physical torture was increasing. It alleged that police officers, who were required to counsel the couple first, were straightaway taking men into judicial custody. " - India Tribune, Chicago.
Sometime back, I wrote a humorous piece, a flight of fancy, in these columns. The India Tribune report lends credence to that imaginary account. So read on what I wrote earlier.
Begums are an enviable lot – enterprising and entrancing – poised coyly in their blissful marital abode like pugilist Mohammad Ali ‘to sting like a bee’ at the opportune moment.
Unlike the village belle happy in her pre- (or post-) mediaeval existence, the doctor absorbed in the constant drudgery of heart murmurs and abnormal pulse beats, Miss A lost in the mundane routines of a teacher’s work-a-day life, or the newly acclaimed member of the fourth estate, the implacable begum stalks to conquer in the mold of Bronte’s Bertha Mason – emancipated and restored to seeming sanity. For many a contemporary Mr. Rochester, life hinges perilously at home!
The imperious begum rules the roost cheerfully dividing her time between family gossip and jovial tittle-tattles and wisely conserving energy for the sublime task of badgering the helpless mortal whose name she contentiously bears with her own.
As forced cheers to the accompaniment of hysterical jeers is the only saving grace for the hapless mijazi khuda , the begum dexterously pursues her course to stage the coup de tat. Many a headstrong matador - admiral, general, air marshal, academic, diplomat, researcher et al. – surrenders ungrudgingly before the charging madam and dutifully responds to her command with a loud and clear “Aye, aye, Begum’ submission, displaying, what the fair sex graciously concedes, ‘an ingrained sense of nobility.’ Clever.
Disposed to adventurism, the more audacious and foolhardy mijaji khuda is hard put – forced to run the gauntlet at the risk of hypertension, disturbed blood chemistry, and accelerated ageing. A precocious buzurg , an assertive husband grays and grays quickly.
So confessed a group of husbands at a hubby get-together in Beverly Hills, LA, the other day. The occasion: a hurriedly convened meeting with the avowed aim of restoring the rights of men of all shades, opinions, outlooks, faith and ethnic backgrounds.
An exasperated medical doctor, nursing a chronic heart murmur and dismissed casually as an ‘hypochondriac’ by his begum, thought it propitious to form an ‘All Pakistan-American Men Association’ to supplement APWA’s efforts for a nobler cause. He appeared more keen to foster APMA’s cause rather than his association with APPNA!
A portly architect piqued with his begum’s excessive craving for ‘better interior décor’ proposed to name the association as ‘Society for the Prevention of Harassment to the Husbands (SPHH).’
Yet another hubby, a professor and a man of letters, lamented the begum’s apathy for the world of learning (she did know of a book by the name enlisting important universities and educational institutions) and her pressing engagements at the beauty parlor in optimistic anticipation of a ‘second spring of youth.’ To him the proposed association could ideally be called ‘ Union for Restoring Authority at Home (URAH).’
A perceptive chartered accountant hurriedly worked out the cost-benefit parameters and suggested the advisability of creating an SOS Village (SOSV), an Apna Ghar, so to say.
A newspaper editor and a former public relations executive pooh-poohed by his wife for his grade 20 pretensions, failed to come up with a name as he sat abstractedly. Perhaps, Nasheman would do, he was heard sputtering in a muted tone.
Incongruous though the assembly was, the huddled and muddled confused mortals debated the begum’s subtle and psychological ploys to turn mian sahib into a mere stooge. Like the famous Qissae Char Durwesh characters, they narrated their tale, one after another. The commonality of their accounts was striking.
The first speaker, an anthropologist fresh from a UNESCO assignment in Paris, furnished illuminating insight into the begum’s behavioral pattern. Alexander did pass through the part of the world constituting Pakistan today. Didn’t he? As many heads nodded in assent, he made the grotesque revelation: the begum was of Greek extraction, of the Amazon stock, the female warriors who tamed men in ancient Greece! Confusion worse confounded, the hubbies could neither assent nor dissent.
The next speaker, a weapon expert, delineated begum’s sophisticated armory. She could set off a chain reaction with her verbal stingers against a loosely marked target and drop depth charges to gauge the reaction to a new offensive. In the art of biological warfare she was equally at ease: now an extra spoonful of salt, now some additional red pepper, and the plan is worked to sinister sophistication.
At this point, a middle-aged gentleman who had sat superciliously all this time, introduced himself: a Dr. M.N., a psychiatrist, educated at Cornell with an outstanding academic record and many post-doctoral research accomplishments to his credit. He added to his professional acumen with a yearly pilgrimage to his alma mater where he had good contacts. He appeared to be specially qualified to address the gathering and to lay hands on the root cause rather than trifle with the better-half’s trifling annoyances.
He spelled out his expert opinion thus: the main battleground in a matrimonial conflict is the ‘psychological front’ where the begum ‘shatters’ the hubby at the ‘conscious and sub-conscious’ level. It is a subtle, long-term and well-planned offensive, he explained, to keep the husband guessing all the time. ‘The begum makes you believe she has bestowed great honor on your family by entering into a matrimonial alliance, that a tragic mismatch has taken place, that you can neither clothe nor feed her, that she was better off in her spinster days, that your parents are both bohemian and unsophisticated with whom the all-forgiving begum has graciously condescended to pass time.
The begum, Dr. M.N. went on, ‘makes you conscious of her family’s ehsan in agreeing to the match. Day in and day out she slights you with oblique references: ‘ Amman , bhai nae kiya dekha jo haan kardi ?’ The venerable assembly of husbands nodded in union. Their experience in this regard was identical.
‘Even dadijan, a Syedani, rubbed dadajan , a Mughal and an aristocrat by birth. Unwarrantedly she would often lash out at him: ‘Hear me now, and hear me good. I am a Syed, not a Mughal!’ Dr. M.N. bemoaned. ‘Poor dadajan was always on the defensive. May his oul rest in peace.’
The begum strives to see mian sahib in the role of a doting mallard, completely and helplessly dependent upon her. ’Didn’t Saira Bano say in a recent interview that she relishes Dilip “come out and call her gently, as he always does, asking for help”. Saira feels “beautiful and great” when he needs her. “I want him to be dependent on me for everything he does.” Saira said so perhaps out of love for Dilip,’ Dr. M.N. explained, but in ‘your life the begum has her own designs: she wants to rule the roost - unchecked and unhindered.’
To support his argument, Dr. M.N. referred to a number of case histories and quoted extensively from international surveys and published reports. A slide summing up findings of a recently published report in the UK was particularly illuminating: ‘Women everywhere felt they had the sharpest tongues and in Ulster, 44 percent of men shed tears, a survey in Women’s World revealed.’ The survey confirmed: ‘Women agree about one thing in marriage – they start most of the rows,’ Dr. M. N. smiled. ‘Proves me right,’ he said.
Divorced twice, his third marriage was on the rocks. The disclosure added to the discomfiture of the hapless hubbies. APMA, URAH, SOSV were meant to mend fences, not snap them altogether, they thought.
At this juncture, the disheveled ex-PR executive-and-now-journalist stepped forward and surprised everyone with his strange rhetoric and recital of newspaper reminiscences of a senior and respected journalist, Mr. Mushtaq Ahmad:
‘From Lucknow I went to Bhiwandi for my marriage which has lasted well over thirty-five years. Safia, the niece of my closest friend, Murtaza Fakih, proved to be a woman of extraordinary qualities with a wealth of common sense so uncommon even in these days of high education and low IQs, and blessed with an infinite capacity to manage the household on a meager budget bordering on a proletarian purse. I did not marry for the love of money, but if I were to marry her again, it would be for love. We have three children all of them working on their own, thanks to the care she has taken in their upbringing. Like the parents they belong to the middle class, content with their middle class income.’
Dr. M.N. hollered. ‘The fool doesn’t know what he is talking about. It is out of force of habit, his PR urge, to defend, to promote, to deny, to explain. Defy, he can’t.’
The confused husbands were apparently moved by Mr. Mushtaq Ahmad’s honest appraisal and appeared in an ambivalent mood - now feeling for, now against, the begum.
Meanwhile, the Dr. M.N.- PR executive-turned-journalist verbal battle continued.
‘The fault does not lie with the begum. The husband too is not to be wholly blamed,’ continued the ex-PR executive.
‘Who, then, damned you?’ asked Dr M.N.
‘The fault lies with our perception, the perception of the middle class. From the role of a social mentor, the self-respecting safed posh middle-class has degenerated into a boisterously braggart and discontented lot.
‘ Safed poshi has given way to superficial artifices and affectations with middle-class strivings shifting from universities, literary societies, libraries, and publishing houses to posh localities, five-star hotels, plush sofas, and aphrodisiac films.
‘As in the past, so in the present, the middle-class must act as a vibrant, dynamic segment of society, and show greater respect for human development which needs the science of values rather than material development which is not total development and does not solve major problems but raises them to a new pinnacle of desperation.
‘We have a heritage, a past, and a history. Even the present does not look all that bleak. Salam has won the Nobel Prize and KANUPP (Karachi Nuclear Power Plant) runs on indigenous fuel…’
‘There, there, he goes again,’ Dr. M.N. protested. ‘Didn’t I tell you he is a compulsive PR rascal.’
‘The truth, Sir, does not speak differently,’ came the pert retort.
And so the altercation continued, a lively extravaganza, as the evening wore on.
LATE NEWS: APMA has been formed, not so much to confront the begum as to act as an appellant group for erring sahibs! A special APMA group is to chalk out the broad outlines of a ‘corrective policy.’ But for whom no one knows! Dr. M.N., in the meantime, has left for the United Kingdom to attend a course on ‘matrimonial conciliation.’ His third marriage still remains on the rocks, but, hopefully, things are expected to take a turn for the better with his fresh indoctrination.
The hubbies are generally at peace and lie low, hoping against hope, that the begums would draw inspiration from Mrs Mushtaq Ahmad and act Safia-like. (Next week: Begums Quickly Settle Scores!)
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