I had been on quite a long reading hiatus, which, fortunately, ended last week. I bought not one, but three books of varied genres to begin afresh. I wrote about Love stories, an anthology edited by Ruskin Bond, and, I let you go‘, by Clare Mackintosh. In today’s post, I review the third book, ‘The Pakistani Bride’, by the internationally acclaimed author, Bapsi Sidhwa.
Her books have been translated and published in several languages and she has received many an honour for her literary works. As humbled as I feel reviewing her book, I hope I am able to do justice to her work. So, help me God.
The Pakistani Bride is the story of Zaitoon, a little girl orphaned during the exodus that was the Partition of India and Pakistan. The bloodbath that led to a complete annihilation of the fabric of our country left countless families shattered and destructed.
The following two lines paint an accurate picture of the aftermath of the Partition, of people’s struggle to leave all their belongings behind to cross over to the other side – the side that now belonged to them:
The train glides through the moon-hazed night, with a solid mass of humanity clinging to it like flies to dung. From time to time a figure loses its hold, or is forced off and drifts like discarded rubbish. A cry, then silence.
So, it was during their flight from this side of the border that five year old Zaitoon loses her parents at the hands of the butchers that men had turned into. She is adopted by Qasim, a tribal belonging to the hills of Kohistan, who is also fleeing to the other side of the border. Qasim finds his way to Lahore where he, with the assistance of his new-found friend, pehelwaan Nikka, sets up a house for himself and his ‘daughter’.
The story traverses through the formative years of Zaitoon, who is looked after like a daughter by Nikka’s childless wife, Miriam. It also follows Nikka’s escapades with the law, and his and Qasim’s rise from their humble beginnings.
The story takes a break when Zaitoon reaches the “marriageable age” of sixteen; when Qasim, whose heart still beats for his Kohistan, for the hills that were his home, decides to give his daughter’s hand in marriage to a tribesman. A decision that inspires in him the hope of seeing his adopted daughter become a part of his history, his land. A decision that finds disapproval from his friend Nikka and his wife, Miriam.
Here, the author introduces new characters in the form of the suave Pakistani army man, Farukh, his American wife, Carol and Major Mushtaq. I did get puzzled as to how these characters would contribute to the story of Zaitoon, but the author has introduced every character with such care; etched every character in such a way, each one plays an important part in the main story.
Zaitoon, with dreams galore about the hills and her impending marriage, travels with her father all the way to his land. Brought up in a society that secludes the women, Zaitoon finds the prospect of marriage, and living with a man stirring feelings within her. Feelings she had only fantasised about in the privacy of her mind, her heart.
Alas, little does she or Qasim foresee their dreams coming crashing down with the beginning of Zaitoon’s new life with Sakhi, her tribal husband. The story takes you through the nightmare that becomes Zaitoon’s life; a nightmare you wish reached an end soon.
The story is riveting till the very end. It stays with you long after you have turned over the last page of the book. In that, it leaves one perturbed at the position women have been allocated in our society. I finished reading it in two days; the suspense left me disconcerted. What lay in store for Zaitoon? was the question that gnawed at me each time I put the book away.
The life of women in certain countries is pathetic, is what we like to believe. But, the bitter fact is that, the life of women in every country is really the same. Be it India, Pakistan, the Middle East, The US of A, or the European nations. Crimes against women occur because “we ask for it”, is the popular belief worldwide. The exploitation, the enslavement, the harassment, the injustice, is all because it’s a man’s world. However much the feminists might scream for justice and equality from the roof tops, life for women will be the same as it has been for a countless years now – abject and pitiable.
The book, ‘I let you go’, had its female protagonist – an American woman and an artist – suffering at the hands of her abusive and jealous husband, the kind of man who is found in Bapsi Sidhwa’s story, too. Zaitoon’s husband, a man of the hills, rather, a savage, makes life hell for his young bride. What follows is…what you ought to read. No spoilers in my reviews!
Bapsi Sidhwa is an outstanding writer, who has brought alive every character in her story. Her characters have layers to their personalities; layers that get peeled off one by one during the course of the story. The incidents during the Partition, the turmoil and the ensuing tragedy that befell the citizens of both the countries has been depicted so beautifully, you feel like you belong to that era, that you are witnessing every incident as it takes place! The pain of the women, be it Zaitoon, Miriam, Carol or the countless women suffering the atrocities at the hands of their men is palpable and your heart goes out to them, making you wish you could change their destinies.
I would urge you all to read this book. Read it so you feel the plight of women across continents; women, who fall prey to the tyranny of their men, regardless of the society/community they belong to. Men are the same all over the world! This statement may reek of misandry, but, isn’t it a fact? Barring a few, the majority are aware of, and wield, the power they have over their women. This book is bound to leave a lasting impression on your mind, and an ache in your heart that refuses to subside with time.
Have you read a book detailing the lives of oppressed women like Zaitoon? Do you think we women have better destinies in store for us; do you think the situation will ever change? Do share with me.