Up until yesterday every time I watched one of our mazloom surat aansoo bahati heroines, putting up with her abusive in-laws and/or living in abject misery with her naam nehad sar[ka]taj, I would always wonder ke in larkiyon ko problem kiya hai … why don’t they just walk out? In many cases these girls would be shown as educated but still when it came to suffering they were right there, crying their eyes out, alongside their uneducated counterparts. So yes, for me as a viewer it was/is very frustrating to watch 90% of our Pakistani dramas, precisely ’cause of this reason.
Why do we as a culture deem marriage to be the be-all and end- all of a girl’s existence, so much so that we force her to stay put in an abusive relationship? Divorces are hard no doubt, but aren’t they a better and brighter alternative to what the said girl is going through in her marriage?I have many friends who were once divorced, but are now leading happy lives, some remain single while others have since remarried. Whatever the reasons behind their failed marriages, they are unanimous in their agreement that they are much happier now and glad they made the decision to end a painful relationship. Why weren’t women, like my friends, ever depicted in our dramas, I often wondered.
What Pehchan does ever so brilliantly is that it not only takes us behind the ornate doors of ameer logon ka bara ghar, affording us a rare, unvarnished closeup of various forms of emotional and physical abuse, all rationalized under the guise of a marriage, but it also goes on to depict the painful aftermath of a young girl’s shattered dreams. We see the raw, stark reality of Laila’s life when she shuns her suljha hua ameer but abusive and philandering shohar and fights her way out of the gilded cage. Yes, my once divorced friends are comfortably settled today, but the emotional price they’ve paid for this peace of mind is something that is almost never mentioned. What we are now seeing Laila go through is a phase seldom discussed in our society, be it in our living rooms, or our literature, or in our TV dramas. This be-izzati, brought upon by a girl on her family, is something we talk about in hushed tones. Un ki beti apna ghar chor kar aa gayi hai. Mind you, it’s always un ki beti never hamari beti – but obviously hamarey shareef gharanon main aisa nahin hota.
It is this kind of social gossip and duplicitous familial pressure that causes Laila’s mother to wish she had had a son instead. But then is her son any better? Where was he when his mother needed support? Even now he’s sitting abroad, manipulating his mother via phone calls. Why should he feel the need to come deal with issues in person? Regardless, of his erring ways, as the “man” of the family bhaiya feels entitled to dictate how his sister should live her life. And here, though she tells off Laila even as she is wiping away her tears, Mummy ji is as much to blame as the absent but ever present bhaiya. She is as much a part of the problem as Mansoor’s mother or our newest entrant Sa’di’s mother.
This fear, of lack of social support, is what that forces so many girls to stay in an unhappy marriage. We talk about educating girls, teaching them to stand up for themselves, but then when they do as Laila is doing, we, as a society, force her to question and regret her choices. The solution, as underscored here, lies not merely in educating our daughters but in empowering them; by listening to them rather than begining the conversation with tumhara dimagh kharab ho gaya hai … larkiyan tau aisey shoharon ke khwab dekhti hain … loag kiya kahenge… ending with the all too familiar: kash tum larki na hotein…
With familial support no longer an option, Laila turns to her friends – Mrs. Khan, Kuku and Sa’di. Here, Mrs. Khan and Kuku represent Laila’s two options – re-marry or stay single. Sa’di makes remarriage sound like an attractive choice but then is marrying him really the right decision? Unwilling to let Laila walk away that easily, as he sees it, Mansoor has once again resorted to same old carrot and stick approach. Laila is all too familiar with her husband’s tactics but she needs to talk through her choices, she is in need of a sounding board. She turns to Sa’di, but in a brilliantly written, very telling moment he too shows his colors. He is open-minded enough to marry a divorced mother, but Mansoor is a topic that will always remain off limits. Were she to marry Sa’di, Laila would have to erase her past pretending it never happened. Her emotional baggage would be hers alone, but as Sa’di’s wife, his familial obligations and responsibilities would be Laila’s burden to share as well. But then the alternative is to live life as a single woman. Does Laila want to become another Kuku? Why are there only either/or answers to her questions? Were the poets who write reams upon reams extolling the virtues of a soul-mate all wrong? If not, then where was her shareek-e hayat?
Much as we, as an audience, would like a fairy-tale ending for Laila and Sa’di, or prefer to see Laila as a successful single businesswoman, the way things stand now, it seems that there are no easy or quick solutions to her problems. Laila will eventually be fine and make peace with her past, like my friends today, but in the interim I hope she remembers to keep her head held high. All roads lead to home and Laila has just taken the first step of many towards hers.
Written by SZ~
Pehchan ~ Episode 19 (For alternate links, click here)