“Thoray dinon mein baby ho jaye ga, woh busy ho jaye gi,” she said to her husband, airily dismissing his concerns about his daughter’s happiness, and to Laila her mother reiterated how lucky she was to have landed a catch like Mansoor, “dekho kitna accha hua, kitne mazey main ho tum, kitne thaat mein reh rahi ho … bas ab aik baby ho jaye ga tau sab perfect ho jaye ga…”
Thaat? Mazey? What were these words? What did they even mean?
All those innumerable lonely evenings she spent waiting for her husband to remember his way home – were those times being referred to as mazey mein rehna? That hurtful dinner, where she was humiliated in front of guests, or the time when her husband had expected her to console his bechari-ro-rahi-hai dost, or when her husband purported to be too busy to spare a glance at her taiyyaris – was that what thaat was all about? What about the times when she was degraded, treated like a disposable tissue, zaroorat khatam hui and easily discarded – was that what accha hona was all about? Hadn’t her mother assured her that a sahih umar ki shaadi to an ameer larka living in a bara ghar would complete her? Why then did she feel like an abandoned plaything?
If marriage had failed to complete her, where then was the guarantee that a baby would fulfill her? What if she had a baby girl, would she then have to wait for baby boy to make her life perfect? Why was her happiness, her complete and perfect life contingent on those outside of herself? Instead of correcting her earlier mistakes, why was her mother doling out more half-lies? Why was her mother willfully ignoring that which was writ large over her daughter’s face?
These are the kinds of hard questions Laila had never considered before. And its not just her, how often have we as a society spared a thought to these extremely important issues raised by Bee Gul. How long will we keep making shaadi and bacchey the be-all and end-all of our daughters lives? Doesn’t a woman merit a pehchan that is more than X ki beti, Y ki biwi, and Z ki maa?
Though miserable, Laila wears her happy face in public – sab theek hai, aisa nahin hai ke Mansoor mujhe chahtey nahin hain, main biwi hoon un ki mujhe pata hai. Privately though, despite Mansoor’s breezy assurance – main tumhara husband hoon, tumhari security hoon – her questions off herself have begun.
Main khush kyon nahin hoon? Door kitni hai abhi subh? All those gossamer thin webs of social deceits and half-lies have thickened to the extent that they have taken on the guise of dark clouds, blotting out all but a few traces of sunlight, leaving Laila alone and chilled to the bone.
What follow are some of her loneliest and unhappiest days as she contemplates the mess called life, but it is in this solitude and reflection that she is discovering herself, finding a voice she didn’t know existed. She is hurting, but unlike before she is not bottling it up.
Earlier we had seen her shed helpless tears, but now we hear an outpouring of emotions and words. She loses it with her mother, confides in her father in a manner that only he would understand, and for the first time ever we see a Laila who looks Kuku straight in the eye and issues a challenge.
It was her mother’s tarbiyat that taught Laila to bear her pain in private and not make a public spectacle of herself, and now her father’s love is fueling her journey towards self-realization. She has no clue where she is headed and what lies in store for her, but there is no doubt that baba ki laadli beti has sprouted wings. The journey is an arduous one and the path unknown, but Laila will eventually evolve into a beautiful butterfly.
While Laila has stepped on the path of self-realization, Kuku is struggling to come to terms with her disappointment and disillusionment. Khurram was a loser, she knew that when she took him back, but his betrayal this time around hurt more than before. What a scene this seemingly charming oaf had set. Candlelight, flowers, a lovely table for two, ambient music, what more could a woman want – isn’t this what Laila thinks is missing from her life? But alas, the man had read this woman wrong.
Indeed, Kuku dreams of a day when she will have children, but not this way. Here, Kuku stood her ground. She was done being played and Khurram was unceremoniously shown the door. What Khurram had never appreciated was that woman like Kuku are rare in our social setup.
Strong on the outside but soft on the inside, Kuku needed to be handled gently with love and care. She needed a man who would not take her for granted, someone who not only allowed her the space to grow but also be willing to offer her a shoulder to lean on. Her tears were never to be taken as a sign of weakness. And here not only Khurram but also Mansoor, both men failed to understand her.
To Khurram she was the key to an easy lifestyle and for Mansoor she was a conquest. None of them were interested in her for who she was, the woman behind the facade. And it is this realization that has shaken Kuku to the core. She had loved him with all her heart but to him she was a glittering medal he displayed proudly on his chest.
Khurram was an easy one to send packing, Mansoor on the other hand refuses to let go. Over time, like Khurram, he too had become complacent, thought he knew her and knew which button to push when. But now that she has rejected him, he refuses to take the hint. No ploy is too underhanded in his efforts to ensure the medal remains pinned on his chest.
Be it playing on Khurram’s weaknesses, pushing Kuku till he gets through her defenses, or playing on her guilt, Mansoor is willing to try them all. Her constant rebuffs make the game that much more thrilling for him. He retaliates with a poetic rejoinder about beloveds who play with their besotted, poor lovers’ hearts. Poetry, music, dancing, returning her house deed, he’s gonna go the whole nine yards. Nothing to do with love and everything to do with his mardana ego.
For Mansoor the fact that he is playing with two women’s lives makes no difference. It is all a game for him, and as long as he can have the upper hand he does not care about casualties. But should we really be blaming Mansoor?
Aren’t we the ones who have allowed men like Mansoor, and even Khurram, to thrive and prosper? We shun daughters and wish for sons. From the time they are children mothers excuse their sons’ behaviors with a smile and a wink, boys will be boys, they say.
As they grow older, mothers pamper them to death and happily draw a veil over their sons’ shortcomings. Their bullying and hardheadedness is explained away as mard ki shaan. It is so much easier to blame the khandan ki larkiyan who all just happen to be fida over their not-so-chand-ka-tukra beta.
After marriage a wife is expected to cater to her husband just as his mother did, and more. A married man’s infidelities are taken in stride, but a single woman’s affair with a married man becomes a source of scandal, one that causes her to hide her face in public. Just the mere mention of the word scandal, scares Kuku to death. Her suddenly stiff body betrays her fear, what would become of her if people knew about her and Mansoor? Where would she go?
Nine weeks in and Pehchan has me glued. Bee Gul’s sharp writing and Khalid Ahmad’s sensitive presentation compels one to stop, think and re-think. So much of what we see here is not new, but what is new is the way its being told. Its not just words, but how they are spoken and not spoken that make a world of difference.
Every gesture has meaning here. There was a time when Mansoor had rejected Laila’s out-stretched han and ,today it was Kuku’s turn to ignore Mansoor’s hand. “Mausam badal raha hai,” Mansoor continually warns Laila. Yes miyan Mansoor tau waqai badal raha hai… aap apni khair manayen!
The subtle quiet and sense of calm with which such an emotional story is being played out is to be applauded. The pace is deceptively slow, and I, for one, am loving this lyrical mode of story-telling.
The beautiful locations, the emptiness, sense of solitude, background music, all come together to become yet another important character in the story. Love how smooth the editing is, the background score is beautifully mellow. Pehchan would not be the show it is without the brilliant lighting and Naveed Malik’s camera work. I like how the farmhouse is being utilized here, loved the roof top setting for Laila and her mom’s tête-à-tête, and the pond setting for Laila and Mansoor’s tea. Also loved the beautiful terrace setting for Khurram’s candlelight fiasco. What I did not love so much was Mansoor’s miyan’s checked jacket – why?!?
His checked jacket and English notwithstanding, Sohail Sameer is excellent as Mansoor. I had started off wanting to pour a karahi full of hot oil on his head, then progressed to a vat, but now after this latest episode, I just want to drown him in hot oil. And Khurram bhaijan tau has a standing date with my hot frying pain. Fawad Khan is very good as Khurram. I hope this is not the last we see of him. Anita Camphor was fabulous again as Mrs. Khan, wanted to give her a huge hug as she shared her insecurities about aging. Parveen Malik and Qazi Wajid were spot on as the parents. Above and beyond all this is Bee Gul, Iffat Omar and Alishba Yousuf’s show and these ladies are on fire!
Unquestionably two thumbs up, Team Pehchan!
Written by SZ~
Hasan Koozagar ~ Penned by Noon Meem Rashid and recited by the inimitable Zia Mohyeddin