Chaar diwari ~ four walls forming the boundary line of a house; meant to keep outsiders at bay and protect insiders from that which goes on on the outside. Though made of brick and mortar these lifeless four walls take on a whole new meaning when seen from a woman’s perspective. For her these walls are more than just a sum of their ingredients, to her they symbolize parental love and affection, and spousal respect and acceptance. What is often left out of this otherwise rosy picture is how conditional all these things are – hers without asking as long as she toes the line, knows her place in the family hierarchy, and does not demand more than is seen as her due. The day she crosses the implicit limits, however, the chaar diwari ceases to exist for her, leaving her open to all and sundry’s disapproval, slurs, questions, and judgement. Kuku and Laila have both transgressed and now their lives are no different than that of the goldfish in the glass bowl – laid bare for the censure of the duniya and duniya waley.
Walking out on her husband would have repercussions she knew that, but her family’s response to her separation shook Laila to the core. Her brother turned against her, that she would perhaps get over in the long run, but to have her mother present her with this either/or ultimatum was something totally unexpected. Wasn’t a mother’s love supposed to be unconditional? Why then did she feel so alone? Why was Mummy handing over her baby’s toys and not responding to her pleas for emotional support? Is a mother-daughter relationship that fragile? And if a bond as strong as this could be so easily threatened and cruelly manipulated, where then was the point in fighting with her brother? Having lost her faith in relationships what was she to gain by fighting for her share of the property?
While the property itself held no meaning for her those signed documents are priceless for Laila – they represent her hard fought independence. First Mansoor and now her brother, one by one she was cutting off the ties that bound her to the whims of the men in her life. Laila saw first hand how her mother’s insecurities were being exploited, and though she is still young, life has taught her enough to not allow herself to be played that way. This new Laila is a woman in her own right, no longer a marionette dancing to the whims of those who pulled her strings.
Laila is now a woman confident in and of herself. She likes Sa’di but she’d be damned if she succumbs to his charm that easily. If he loves her as much as he claims to, then he should have no problem in giving her time and space. Wait and allow Laila to arrive at a decision that not only makes her happy but is in her and her daughter’s best interests. Ameer loag, bara ghar and suljha hua khandani larka, these are not the measures by which she will assess a prospective spouse. When and if Laila decides to marry she would be looking for a shareek-e hayat, a partner in every sense of the word. Whether Sa’di fulfills this deceptively simple criterion remains to be seen.
Laila is not the only one evolving. Supporting the younger girl has helped Kuku move on as well. Having made her peace with Khurram and recognizing Mansoor for the pathetic man he is, Kuku is no longer looking outward for emotional support – she alone is responsible for her happiness. And this is the hard-earned lesson she first imparted to Laila and now shares with Mrs Khan.
With Pehchan Bee Gul points to not only the shortcomings of our social setup but is also asking us to reconsider the role we women play in perpetuating and preserving the status quo. Granted we live in a patriarchal society, but why do we as women allow our insecurities and love for creature comforts to rule us to the extent that we become playthings in the hands of men. Despite all his advice to his daughter, Laila’s father made no special arrangements providing for either his wife or his daughter, leaving his son in charge of disbursements thus allowing him to manipulate his mother. For her part, rather than putting her son in his place, Aunty ji allows her owns fears to affect her relationship with her daughter. Who do we blame – the dad, the son or the mother?
Mrs. Khan has problems with her husband, but so scared is she of social repercussions that she puts up with his ridicule and ill-temper. We were introduced to her way back when in the first episode, but since then, in all this while what do we actually know about her? Forget about other stuff we don’t even know her name! Her only identity is her husband’s name – take that away and she as an entity ceases to exist. It is this fear of non-existence, of being turned into a nobody, that keeps women like Mrs. Khan hanging on to marriages that are way past their expiry dates. It is this knowledge, that overnight they might go from living in a palace to living in a hovel, that keeps women like Zari up at night. Much as she might want to, as long as her son doesn’t allow it she will continue to turn a deaf ear to Laila’s pleas for understanding.
Much like Zari and Mrs. Khan, Ammi ji, Mansoor’s mother, too is all about maintaining the status quo. No matter how her son may have ill-treated Laila, she will continue praising her son. After all yeh sab karna tau ek mard ki fitrat hai, us ki shaan hai, her words to Laila seemed to imply. Khair koi baat nahin, tu nahin aur sahi, aur nahin tau aur sahi, the mother and son remain unfazed. They have learned from their mistakes – the door to the cage will never be left open again.
Whether Laila was lucky to have walked away or did she commit a blooming blunder is a matter of perspective. From her brother’s point of view Laila’s is a transgression that cannot be forgiven. For Mansoor Laila is the one who got away, and now he’s made it his mission to break her. From Laila’s perspective giving up on a bara ghar, ameer shohar and baba ki jaidad was a price she willing to pay for the freedom it offered in return. For Kuku helping Laila helped her understand herself and allowed her to come to terms with her insecurities, and for Mrs. Khan the calm on her two friends’ faces, despite all their travails, is perhaps the biggest eye opener she’s ever gotten, compelling her to assess her life choices in a whole new manner. Whether she too is willing to exchange her cushy lifestyle for a no-frills life in a cheap glass bowl remain to be seen.
This then to me is the success of Pehchan: the questions it generates and the debate it opens. Whether we agree or disagree on the direction of the story or the choices of various characters is immaterial, it is the issues it raises that are important. Kudos to Bee Gul and Khalid Ahmad for not only entertaining us but pushing us out of our comfort zones and making us think – way to go Team Pehchan!
Written by SZ~
Pehchan ~ Episode 18 (For alternate links click here)