From Dawn, June 1997.

A wife's letter to her husband
Followup: Fear of the known
Followup: If I were you...


A WIFE'S LETTER TO HER HUSBAND

BY LARA ZUBERI

Why do men take their wives for granted and marriage so lightly as if it's all disposable? Things would be much better if they could only learn to see things from the other person's eyes

To,
The man,
I married.

I was young, very young. Studying and planning a future ahead of me. Then you came into my life.

My mother told me that there was a proposal from a good-looking, highly-qualified young man from a respectable family, earning well and settled in America. Weigh the pros and cons? There were no cons to weigh. My first natural reaction was 'No'. I'm only eighteen. I need to get an education, and plus, I need to be mentally prepared before making such a major decision. My second, delayed reaction. Why not? If he is the Mr Right, then other problems can be resolved. Also, America would offer more opportunities for a better education if I was determined to continue. I would consider.

I met you. I liked you. You seemed like the person who would love me, take care of me and never bear the sight of tears in my eyes. Besides being broad minded, you were fun loving, and I was sure that your good sense of humour would never let the smile on my face fade away. Your conversation exuded intelligence and your eyes seemed to emanate a warmth which I can never forget - a warmth that I always yearned to see, but never saw again.

I was happy. I said yes, without once thinking again. I was on top of the world - in the sky - in the seventh heaven of my fools paradise. The wedding day arrived - I was a little anxious, knowing little of the direction in which my boat was going to sail. I did not know then, that the rough tides would not allow it to sail at all. I was worried about adjusting to American lifestyle, but loved you, and nothing else seemed to matter.

The first few days seemed to be part of a fairy tale and I, the princess - you told me that you cared about me, that life without me would be meaningless to you, like a bare ground, like an empty shell, like a blank canvas you had said. You probably don't remember. But I remember. Every word you said, is etched in my memory, more vividly than my own name. That, perhaps, till today was the happiest day of my life. I had left behind my family, my dearest friends, my home, my country - all of which were very special to me -just to be with you. It had not seemed like a sacrifice then. Somehow, it doesn't even seem like a sacrifice now. I was your wife, and would be, till the day I died.

Slowly, you started to change. You told me I couldn't study - I readily complied, without even feeling the pinch, despite my ambitions, and without even realising that you were breaking your promise, and my heart. I was content in being a housewife and a mother (a role I had never pictured myself in). Anything that made you happy would make me happy. Then you started losing your temper - and at the most unreasonable of issues - but they didn't seem unreasonable then. I would simply listen, shed a few tears, and end up saying sorry in the end. I would blame myself for things you did wrong. Then you told me not to go anywhere. Not to meet anybody. I was not accustomed to living in isolation, but after all, compromise was a part of marriage, wasn't it?

Then one day you said you didn't love me. That you had not wanted to marry me in the first place. That I was a nagging wife and a nuisance. And a burden. Those had been your exact words. That you loved someone else. I felt shattered and betrayed, and I felt as if something within me had died. But not once did I think of leaving you. Not once.

I was not going to retaliate. I was going to put everything into this marriage - everything that the last vestiges of my being had to offer. I would only give, and let you take all. I had become more patient, and more submissive than ever before, and I thought that one day my endurance would reach its threshold. But it never did. I had become your slave, and I didn't mind being treated like one. If torturing me and cursing me was giving you any pleasure, that was good enough for me. One day maybe you would realise; and change, and become the man of my dreams - the dreams that had never come true.

Then you sent me to Pakistan. By this time, things had improved, and you were being kind and gentle towards me. I thought I had finally won the battle. I was elated. A few days after coming to Pakistan, I was walking in my garden, and saw a neat looking envelope lying on the grass. I quickly opened it, thinking it was from you. And indeed it was - an innocent looking printout which had the same word written thrice - DIVORCE.

I had heard of people get divorced but I had never thought it could happen to someone who was so committed to a marriage. And I never thought it could happen to me. If you had put a knife through me, it wouldn't have hurt more than those casually written words. I am still in the period of recovering from this shock, I don't know if I ever will. But I want to ask you what right you had to ruin my life. Did I, and the days you spent with me, mean nothing to you? Were the vows you made so worthless that you discarded them without a blink of an eye? Is the institution of marriage a joke to you?

Your life will go on unchanged, undeterred, but my family and I have suffered more than you can ever imagine. I will never know why you married me at all. But I am still not angry at you. I am only hurt. Hurt beyond expression.

Your disillusioned,
X-wife.


Lara's theme: Fear of the known

By Scheherezade

Lara Zuberi's letter really touched me. I felt like I was reading a printout of my own fears. I'm 25, working, and on the verge of getting married. Like Lara, my perspective husband lives abroad. He has warm eyes, and a reassuring smile. And I have a feeling he doesn't love me either.

I don't know if I can draw a parallel from Lara's story. But it's sad when a young girl who has grown up in a secure environment finds herself petrified with the thought moving on to the next phase of her life because instead of elation, excitement, or joy, all she sees is impending doom.

I guess it's natural for all girls to be apprehensive before they marriage. There is so much you don't know, so much you hope for, so much you don't want to risk.

I can't be proud of the way I've led my life. I've tried to take plunges because I believed that unless you don't give something, you don't gain anything plus I was always terrified of being alone.

I let myself fall in love once. Didn't work out. Still decided that I was just not the sort who could get into our arranged marriage. How in heaven's name can you start living with somebody you don't know at all?

So, I let myself fall in love again, or at least that's what I thought I was doing. The guy was abroad. This time it was for real. I just knew that the man I had known and had been friends with for six years was obviously going to come through for me, and love me like nobody ever could .... because, well, because he told me so. No, I didn't think I was being stupid or idealistic then, I had to go with my "gut feeling."

I cared deeply for this person, I was willing to struggle for our life together, I was sure it was going to work. Two years passed. I kept crying. He kept telling me not to. I had my doubts. He kept telling me to have blind faith in him. He would do it. Still hasn't. It wasn't his fault. I still love him no matter what he does.

But you can't live by love alone. Especially when you know that you are starting out on the wrong foot anyway, with doubts and insecurities. So, I thought, hey, maybe I should start using my head instead of my heart.

A "good rishta" came along. I started listening to what everybody around me had to say. Two completely conflicting viewpoints. My head and my heart, the young and the old, the conservative and the reckless.

He had warm eyes and a reassuring smile. The sort of person Lara's husband seemed like initially. How wrong could I go if I met him a few times, listened to advice that experienced people had to give. I have no expectations from him, I'll make it work out.

I'm supposed to get married in a few months. I speak to the guy on the phone sometimes. He sounds like a male chauvinist. Probably does not even care who he's marrying. It was just something he had to do, so he's doing it. I'm petrified.

I don't know what I've gained by writing all this down. I'm still confused.

I don't know which direction I'll go in. Anything can happen.

But a part of me has died. I'm not even married yet. I haven't even faced the worst. I wonder if I'll crack up when it comes. Maybe there is no such thing as love or maybe it's the only thing. I'll never know.

I wrote something a couple of days ago. I called it the The Wall.

Life is like banging your head against a stone wall. You feel like you're finally out of the mess you were in and that things were getting better because they couldn't possibly get any worse. Bang - you are face to face with the fact that your problems have just started.
They were right when they said that I shouldn't get depressed and pessimistic because I was blessed, and I was lucky. Now I know how true that was. Everything that I had taken for granted was now hanging in front of me on a string that was too short, and I couldn't get a hold of - something I would never be able to reach, no matter how hard I tried.

My very soul seems to be mocking me. So, you thought you were invincible, you thought you could get away with hurting someone who loved you, you thought you could get away with being the person you had become. Well, surprised? It's all going to come back to you. Now, it's going to be ten times more difficult - you'll have to change. If you thought you couldn't possibly shed any more tears than you already had, you were mistaken. That was just the beginning.

The beginning of the end. The stone wall that doesn't have a beginning or an end. Just you, your head, and the wall. Make contact. And welcome to reality.


Lara's theme: If I were you...

By Shazia Ali

You were young very young. At the tender age of 18, when you had not even understood yourself, you could hardly be expected to understand and cope with the selfish nature of your husband. Eighteen - a time to dream and weave fantasies, a time to laugh and expect the world to be at your feet. Eighteen - and you were married and went so far away from your family, friends, home and country. Eighteen - the enormous responsibility of shaping a future and sharing a relationship.

No. Eighteen is not the age to get married. I remember my happy-go-lucky attitude towards life at 18, and my heart wrings in sympathy for the loss of your dreams. I cannot claim that I understand your pain, but I can understand your dreams and expectations.

I was 23 at the time of my nikah, five years older than what you were when you got married. My husband too, resides in America and I hope to join him there soon. I too am going through all the apprehensions of adjusting to the American lifestyle.

You say that leaving behind everything to go off with your husband was not a sacrifice for you. You are right, it is not a sacrifice, there are no sacrifices in the ties of love. The honour of being a wife of the man you love is enough to compensate for all the ties that you leave behind.

You were so young, and so you readily agreed to give up all your dreams of education and a career for the sake of a home and a family. How could anyone blame you, for bowing so gracefully. It is the secret dream of every girl in our society to have a little home filled with warmth and happiness, to have a family that loves each other despite the highs and lows of life.

It is my secret dream too. My education, my career, this was my priority just a few months ago, and suddenly one man enters my life and the scenario is changed. My career could go down the drain, and it would hardly cause a ripple in my life, as long as my husband was beside me, giving me all the support and love that I crave for. I would willingly stay at home and be a housewife and mother, if this was what he wanted.

You put everything into your marriage, everything that the last vestiges of your being had to offer", all in an attempt to appease your husband and save your deteriorating relationship. There are some who would fail to understand what you did. Some would say that you should have broken free, and even some would think that you were weak-willed enough to have become a slave.

But what all these people would be overlooking is the power of love. You were young, and in love with your husband, and love is an emotion that can break the strongest of hearts. I can understand what you did because I would have done the same if I were in your place. I love my husband too, and to protect my marriage from harm I too, would easily destroy my self-esteem, and myself if necessary.

You continued to nurture the hope that may be one day your husband will turn around and become the man of your dreams. You were right again, even a dying person continues to hope until his last breath.

But now that all your dreams are shattered, now that you have the stigma of divorce attached to your name, I can only try and understand the horror of having someone you love betray you. I wish your husband had realized that marriage, for girls like you and me, is a commitment that only death should break. I wish that men who treat marriage as a joke would open their eyes and see the pain and heartache that they cause with their indifference.

Your letter, though meant for your ex-husband, must have cut deeply into the hearts of all those girls who love their husbands and dream of a fulfilling future. It made me aware of how fortunate I am that I still have my dreams intact, and I can look up to my husband to fulfill them.

Now I can only say that hearts do not break, they are more resilient than we give them credit for, they simply stop feeling for a little while. God has given every human being inner reserves of strength that even we are not aware of sometimes. One day the shock and pain will subside, one day you will open your eyes and look around and you will be able to appreciate the beauty of life again, and that day you will be able to dream again. One day.


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