Thursday, April 7, 2016

Aasia died despite a burka

She had always lived her life cautiously. The caution began when as a child, her parents did not have enough money to buy her a good brand of watercolours. She persevered with the cheaper one. The colours were still pretty and bright, what if the quality was not the same. And anyway they say it’s not about the tools, but the skills.

Life went on and SLRs turned to DSLRs and those too were out of her range. She lived on. Wanting more out of a picture than what the other person desired. And the picture kept on getting blurred for lack of money. Pictures were blurred, life was dull in cheap paint, and without going to an expensive school, earning good money was out of question.

"Isn't life unfair," she asked Laila, her elder sister. Her friend recently bought a high end professional camera and she had to make do with a point and shoot.
Laila only smiled. Being the older one, she was more accustomed to accepting defeat when it came to affordability of things and life. Pads were expensive and old cloth, even if it caused infection was far cheaper, she thought.

"Why don't you sell some of your work and buy a better camera Naina?" she asked her little sister. Naina was 20 now, not little by any standards. She had bloomed into a beautiful woman, and so many who came from the marriage market to judge Laila as a potential mate for their sons, preferred Naina.

"Baji, but it is still not fair that Nilofer can buy whatever she wants and whenever she likes. Abba could have worked harder," Naina said licking off the final speck of chocolate from the wrapper. "I know Nilo's father is in the same office as Abba, but they have a bigger house and so many people who help her mother in the house. She doesn't have to do the cooking and cleaning like Amma does. And Nilo never has to help with anything in the house, it is always the maids, chef, and drivers."

Laila smiled her patient smile. She knew the works of Nilofer's father. If he had a chance, he may even sell his daughter to the highest bidder and throw in his wife as a bonus. Did he not pimp his wife out to the boss to get an extension before his retirement?

In this little world of theirs, life was such. The black hearted lived a better life. It was fate, maybe karma, or perhaps just god.

"Abba is too old to work now Naina, maybe when you find a very good job, you can buy all the things you have ever wanted," she told the younger one.

Jobs in the market were hard to find. As a good looking woman, she often received offers of a different kind when her resume reached the desk of a Seth looking for some receptionist or secretary. May they rot in hell, she thought to herself before turning back to her book.

Naina has to be ignored a bit. She will learn, as I did, she thought to herself as she moved on to the next chapter. But Naina had other thoughts. She snuggled up to Laila and whispered if she knows the boy who lived in house number 38.

"His eyes follow me and it is very scary," she whispered to Laila, who almost jumped out of her skin.

"You did not talk to him, did you? Did he ask for your phone number? Don't accept his request on Facebook if he sends one. And don't ever send a picture to him on WhatsApp," the agitated sister said.

These men are lechers; he couldn't have a chance with me so now he is trying for my little sister. She thought of teaching such men a lesson.

In her mind she had punished the man several times. From complaining to his mother to chopping his genitals off. None of this will work though. She thought miserably. Naina needs to be protected, and she will have to do that. Their mother was too inspired by the resident alima of their neighbourhood to do much. At the most she will stop Naina from going to the university and make her do all the housework as punishment for giving the opportunity to men.

Laila did try complaining to her mother about the man from house number 38, and it did not work out well. She recalled the conversation.

"Amma, aunty Farhat's son stares at me a lot." And that was the end of her.

"Junaid is such a nice boy. He can never do that. Maybe if you wore a burqa, such things won't happen with you. Farhat's daughter never has a problem even though she goes in public buses to the university. Only girls who do not wear a burka face this problem. Had Zarina maasi (maid) ever complained of harassment?" the pious mother asked. Zarina was the only maid they had ever been able to afford. A beautiful woman of 40 years with pale eyes and dark-black curls. She used to wear a black burka and came from the nearby katchi abadi.

Laila could not help but think of the often black and blue Zarina. Once she came with a purple eye shedding tears of blood. The maid always said it was her fate. “It is the destiny of the woman to be a subordinate. That is how god ordained it. If this did not happen, we will all go to hell; have you not heard the prophet (pbuh) saw mostly women in hell? For, it is in our nature to be sinful,” Zarina maasi declared, perhaps even happily that her beatings were a way to avoid hell.

What was her story, Laila wondered, forgetting all about her own stories of poverty and abuse. She remembered Zulekha, Zarina’s daughter, who often came with the mother and played with her. She stayed until it was time for the duo to go home.

Zulekha and Laila were the same age. Laila went to school, whereas Zulekha went to a madrasa. She was not even allowed to visit them once she was nine years old, and it all ended abruptly.

“Are you mad? Why will I add him on Facebook or send a picture on WhatsApp? He did ask for my phone number but I ran away,” Naina looked at her elder sister. She was much smarter than Laila, who was an introvert and hardly shared much. Naina knew Laila was harassed by aunty Farhat’s son, even though she never shared with her.

“I know he is not a nice man Laila, he bothers every other girl in the neighbourhood. Remember Aasia? She committed suicide because of him. Junaid told her he will marry her, but he never did. He was only playing with her. Aunty Farhat only wanted a burka clad daughter-in-law and Aasia did start wearing a burka to please her,” Naina disclosed to her ever quiet older sister, whose eyes began shimmering at the tragedy.

“Do you really think Naina that a burka will help us be safe from these eyes?” Laila asked thoughtfully.

“No, not ever, or Aasia would be still alive,” Naina said.

“But was she not already tainted?” Laila inquired.

“No Laila aapi, nobody gets tainted without someone tainting them, burka or no burka,” Naina said forcefully before storming out of the room in anger.

Naina had seen Zarina maasi the other day in the market. A shopkeeper was gesturing with his crotch at the burka-clad-old Zarina when she passed by his shop.

“How does wearing a burka change any of that,” she had thought.

Zulekha's story:

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