We take great pride in our culture, traditions and value systems. Handed down from generation to generation, it is our mashriqi aqdaar that distinguish our particular way of life. We live not as individuals but as parts of larger support systems. Immediate family flows over into extended family, friends introduce a realm beyond the family fold, and our professional and social interactions connect us to the outside world. So much of who we are and what we eventually become is an outcome of familial pressure and social expectations.
Woven as we are into these networks of relationships we rarely see our prescriptive lifestyles for what they are, unconsciously adhering to explicit and implicit societal norms. After having grown up with continued exhortations to that effect it is impossible to ever forget that what one does, how it is done, and the subsequent outcome, carry implications for not just the individual but the ripple effects are felt by those around as well. Ghar waley, khandaan waley, susral waley, dost, muhalley waley, duniya waley … all the walas in the world and what they might think of us has a huge impact on the way we conduct ourselves.
Living up to social expectations is a weighty responsibility, one which is as oppressing as it is suffocating. Much as we might chafe against these, however, to break free carries a price so high that a vast majority give up the fight even before entering the arena. Those who challenge are marginalized. Choosing to forge her own path, Kuku charted an independent course uncaring of how she would be perceived. One cruel phone later, Kuku is questioning the wisdom of her decisions. It was never her intention to hurt an innocent bystander. She might be a rebel but a home-breaker she isn’t. Trying to explain this difference, however, is easier said than done. Her lover refuses to understand Kuku’s issue. Once a rebel always a rebel, no? Why then such an attack of conscience? Mansoor’s clearly not worried: Laila biw hai meri …woh samajh jaye gi… I know her.
The culture and traditions we take such pride in are merciless in their demand for absolute compliance. A prisoner in a jail cell has more rights, at least there exists the right of appeal in a court of law. But for a victim of societal abuse there exists no such arena. The glow of happiness and pride on her mother’s face is enough to ensure that Laila will not voice her pain, not question her mother, and not seek justice from a social system that has happily handed her a life sentence. Even for her own mother she is no longer her beti. Chastising Laila’s father she reminds him, ab aap Mansoor ki biw ki fikar rehne den.. apni biwi ki fikar karen... Laila the individual has ceased to exist. She is merely a biwi, who refused her husband’s request to console his girlfriend. Yes, another misstep added on to Mansoor’s increasingly long list of shikayats about her. He remains unrepentant but puts the onus on his wife to figure out ke is baat ko ley kar bitterness phailayen ya phir khush rahen… your choice. Really? Seriously?
From her quizzical look it is evident that Mansoor’s charm is getting old and Laila is growing up, and fast. Even as Laila’s unvoiced shikwas are begining to suffocate her and she finds herself questioning conventions, which force her to maintain a sab theek hai front. What she does not know yet is that the key to her shackles lies with none other than those around her. Her mother, her saas, her husband, all are equally complicit. We talk about duniya and duniya waley, but who are these unseen people? Truth be told, our duniya is not inhabited by the millions around the globe; rather it is our loved ones, those around us, who constitute our entire universe. Laila’s mother deliberately turns a blind eye to her daughter’s visible unhappiness. Her father allows himself to be distracted by his wife. He is concerned, more so than his wife, but is not strong enough to be proactive about Laila’s situation. And perhaps he can’t. Has he earned the right to challenge his wife? If he was living Mansoor’s lifestyle in his jawani, then why should he expect his daughter to have a life different than his wife’s? If her mother and her saas could do it then why should Laila be any different, after a fashion she too will learn to mollify herself with the trappings of being a handsome ameer shohar ki biwi.
As for the ameer shohar in question, Mansoor is a very savvy man. Unlike his wife and girlfriend he has figured out how to use societal conventions to his advantage. Rather than allowing himself to be trapped by the guilt inducing language of becharagi, farz, majboori, thakawat, tumhari khatir, he smoothly displaces the blame onto Laila and Kuku. He is doing this for them. He is cheating on Laila because Kuku cannot live without him. It is Laila’s fault for not consoling Kuku, she is responsible for her rona dhona. If he divorces Laila then it would Kuku ki khatir. And if either of them dare to look him in the eye and question him, he shamelessly pulls out the main behara act. Mere paas bhi ek dil hai, uska kisi ko khayal hai? Mera qasoor kiya hai? Main tau chor doonga… tum reh paaogi? Mera kiya hai…mere paas tau ek biwi hai tum na sahi woh sahi, kya farq parta hai…[but] will this make you happy Kuku? Uff!!! Miyan Mansoor itna ziada ehsaan!
The other shohar in question, Khurram, is no bechara either. Much like his wife’s boyfriend, this one to too is an expert in hitting where it hurts the most. Mention of yet another bari opportunity is always followed by promises of bara ghar, bacchey, and Kuku as a stay at home mother. Just enough to remind Kuku theirs is a give-n-take relationship. Oopar oopar se though, he is solicitous to the nth degree. Ab it is besides the point that Kuku has seen through him. But Khurram bhi ek alag ki cheez hai … zabardasti allergy pills thama ke he’s back to watching his TV show. All I can say is that Kuku is a bigger and better person I could ever aspire to be!
Though we go through life hiding behind layers of pretense, there are times when pretending is no longer an option. Stark, inescapable realities stare you in the face and there is no place to run. Laila and Kuku’s takra was one of those times. Reeling on the inside, all Kuku could do was to stare in shock. Now that Mansoor’s biwi has a face and a name it is well nigh impossible for Kuku to carry on with Mansoor. He though has other plans. But with Laila’s pregnancy things will change, or perhaps not?
Finally, on the issue of children, just like shaadi ki sahih umar and acha rishta, conceiving immediately is yet another one of those unwritten societal prescriptions. Though she chooses to look the other way, her mother knows Laila is unhappy. Perhaps she remembers the early days of her own marriage, or perhaps, like Laila’s saas she too is hinting she knows of Mansoor’s infidelities. Regardless, she pushes Laila to have a child. That this child would be a product of a loveless union, maybe even an outcome of marital rape, is easily shoved under the rug. Bacchey ke baad sab theek ho jaye ga. Yet another half truth… unconcerned about the extent of damage being wreaked on a young girl, webs of deceit continue to be spun. Do we as a society weave these silken lies to spare others the pain or are these no more than an exercise in self-preservation, helping draw a gauzy veil over otherwise grotesque realities?
Pehchan continues to reel me in with every passing episode. There is so much to be mined here. Nothing, not one aspect of our web of social relationships seems to have escaped Bee Gul’s eagle eye. Khalid Sahab’s on point direction, the excellent lighting, camerawork and the brilliant actors, all have come together to create something really memorable. Thank you Team Pehchan for inviting us on this fabulous journey – loving the ride!
Written by SZ~