With knowledge and self-discovery, with recognition and identification, with knowing who you are, with pehchan comes pain and hurt. A pain that much more intensified because it is inflicted by those closest to you. A hurt that leaves no visible marks but scars the soul forever. Her mother, brother, even his susralis, everybody and their uncle’s izzat is threatened by Laila’s transgressions. In all their blithering and blabbering, their main aur meri izzat concerns, not one person has stopped to ask Laila what went wrong. Nobody sat down with her and invited her to open up. But then why should they? Where was the need? Isn’t it enough that her majazi khuda has labelled her a hooker, a slut. Bas! Laila is in the wrong. No arguments no questions – case closed. Even a murderer is assumed innocent till proven guilty, but Laila’s crime is worse. She dared to walk out – with no intention of ever returning.
What Bee Gul illustrates ever so brilliantly is how much of our bharam is tied up in inanimate objects – Mansoor’s daulat and his bara ghar. The importance we place on symbols – her husband’s naam and the chaardiwari of his house. It is Laila’s rejection of these status symbols, the markers of societal honor, that has her khandaan up in arms. Girls wait for such accha rishtas, ameer loag and suljha hua larka, her mother had told her way back when, and now here was this ingrate upping and leaving, rejecting the comfort and security these bring her. Not a thought did she spare to what it would do to her “loved” ones. How this ameer and suljha hua larka toyed with Laila’s sense of self and izzat holds no weight. She is merely a na-samajh na-shukri larki.
While her family reels under the import of Laila’s harkats, Laila herself has gone beyond offering any explanations or defending herself. Why should she? Who’s asking? Who’s listening? Where are the judge and jury? Her guilt was automatically assumed the minute she crossed the gate of her husband’s house. Not this time, but the first time, when she had stepped out to open up her business. What happened after was merely a confirmation her guilt in Mansoor and the duniya walas’ eyes. The hesitation she had once felt, whether her makeup would be taken wrongly, is now gone. The Laila of today has no problems looking her reflection straight in the eye and wearing her lipstick. All these taweez and murabbas, her mother and brother’s selfish pleas are not going to stand in her way. Her mind is made up. This her life and it is her choice that matters. Her as yet nameless daughter will not grow up to be like the Laila of old, she will have this new Laila as her role model.
Laila’s journey thus far has been very distressing, she has suffered every step of the way, but what lies ahead is probably more difficult. From hereon it is no longer about her khandaan, duniya and duniya waley, it is about her and her choices… and who is to say which choice is the right one. Sa’di wants to marry her, but did he really ask her or was he taking her separation as an indication of her willingness? And, if she does marry with him then is it because she is on the rebound or because she genuinely cares for him? Wouldn’t her marriage prove everybody’s suspicions right? The alternative would be to be by herself, as Kuku advises her, and enjoy her new found freedom.
Unlike her self-centered family members, in Kuku and Mrs. Khan Laila has two very dear friends. Both support her and offer their unconditional love and help. What stands out though is that both these women represent two very difficult schools of thought. Mrs. Khan is a stand-in for the well meaning, well-intentioned friends we all have in our lives, they support you, but their love for gossip supersedes everything. Moreover, though they talk the talk, and preach the walk, they will seldom if ever be seen walking the walk themselves. Mrs. Khan may talk smack about her husband, but she will never leave him. For her it is a no-brainer that Laila should marry Sa’di. A woman needs the security of her husband’s name, is her mantra and the reason why she continues to live with a man she claims to loathe. Kuku, on the other hand, tells Laila the exact opposite. Why do you need a man, she tells the younger girl, learn from my mistakes. But, had she been given the option, would living life alone be Kuku’s number one choice?
Meray shareek-e hayat mujh se
ruh o dil ka milap kar lo
mere sachey aansoon se tum
apne dil ko paak kar lo
kuch aisa sacha milap kar lo
meray shareek-e hayat mujh se…
Why is it that both of Laila’s choices, marriage or living alone, seem to be compromises? And this not just true in Laila’s case, this is the dilemma that our culture imposes on all women. From the day she is born a girl is taught the value of compromising, of molding herself to first her parents’ and later her husband and in-laws’ lifestyles and choices. Why is it that a desi male never hears something similar, ever? If a woman chooses to live life alone, then why do we as a culture judge her? Why do we automatically assume she is alone not by choice but because she was jilted by someone, or because she wasn’t lucky enough to land an accha rishta? Why does Mrs. Khan feel compelled to continue a sham of a marriage and why does Kuku set a second place at the dinner table. Is it too much to hope for and expect that somewhere out there is a man, secure enough to let a woman walk alongside him, both their heads held high, sharing their lives as shareek-e hayats?
Week after week Bee Gul leaves me awestruck with her insight. I try but I know my words don’t do an iota of justice to the depth of this deceptively simple story. Khalid Sahab, on the other hand, does remarkable justice to her words. Under his able guidance, and Naveed Malik’s cinematography every frame looks like a painting come to life, and every scene speaks volumes. The actors for their part shine in their beautifully etched characters.
Team Pehchan, take a bow and then come back for a second one!
Written by SZ~
Pehchan ~ Episode 17 (For alternate links click here)