When Manto never leaves us…..



Source: Iqbal Hussain

by: Swati Parashar

I stare at the phone yet again, looking at the messages we have exchanged during the last few weeks. It seems like a nightmare that probably has an end, and yet the phone is real, your words and pictures are real; my tears of rage are real and my hope is real too. Hope that stays like a fireball in my belly, ready to burst. You want me to write this while you write in your head all the time. On paper, you dare not and on the laptop your tears just well up.

My mind travels to the past when we met more than a decade ago; at an academic program where we laughed and debated and disagreed. I was looking forward to meeting this pious hijabi woman from across the border. The knock on the door made another friend jump off my bed lest you (the visitor) think we were lesbians! You walked in with that infectious smile and hijab and lots of funky music. We felt connected instantly, stepping out of our prejudices and unlearning the histories we had internalised. Remember how we discussed Saadat Hasan Manto and Amrita Pritam and how we should have been living in different times? And when things got awry at the program, you were loyal in your support, generous in your love. I remember wondering how I had not missed you all those past years when we did not know of each other’s existence. We made a pact to write stories one day.

We have not met since but have been in touch on email, phones and letters. We have followed each other’s life events. You wrote me a long letter (you like those paper letters that travel quite a bit) about your newfound love, your dreams and worries about the future (as you analysed the consequences of your inter-religious marriage, your family, your community). Then you married him and how happy and radiant you looked in the pictures. Your social media profile telling its own story of deep love and affection both of you had for each other and which you later shared with your beautiful child. It was a huge step to take, and you did with conviction and love. Your families were disapproving, upset but things worked out in the end and happiness was yours. When your mum passed away, I knew you were suffering. You had lost your biggest support. But nothing seemed amiss, nothing out of place.

Then you sent me this message a few weeks ago, if you died, it was not going to be an accident, it would be orchestrated by your husband. There was no reason to not believe you. The pictures of bruises, your stories make perfect sense. You have been living a life of terror that no one knows about. You suffer quietly as day after day you are beaten to a pulp. You lock yourself in the bathroom to escape this monstrosity inflicted on you even as you wonder how you handed your life on a platter to a stranger; you who is smart, educated and capable. How could you be so gullible, so naïve you ask yourself? Why are there no questions for the world?

You are convinced you have no options with a four year old who depends on you. You have no papers, no certificates, no support and he has convinced you that he is ‘untouchable’. You don’t even have a bank account and hardly ever go out of the house. You pick up your daughter from school and wonder if the bruises are hidden. No one hears you screaming for help. In that apartment block which you rent, no one hears you or asks anything. Can that be real? You cannot tell your family because you feel you’ve always made your own decisions, which they have not always agreed with. But above all, they all love him, worship him including your own family. He is widely “respected” in your friend/family circle and in his professional life. You tried telling his best friend about this once, but he laughed. No one believes this, you see. No one believes that your wonderful, soft spoken, helpful, influential, well-respected, well read, articulate husband who married you for love can inflict such atrocities, can indulge in such horrific emotional and physical violence. It must be your fault anyways, right? I do believe you; every word you send me is a drop of tear I see. It is your trust and faith that keeps our communication going; it keeps us going.

I know you don’t believe that there is a way out; I know all this has been soul crushing. I think of your tiny frame next to a man who is more than double your size; I think of the choking and beatings you endure; your broken ankle, finger or elbow, your swollen face and puffy black eyes. I wonder if everyone around you is blind or pretending to be so? I think of how you worry more about your broken glasses than your bruised eye. I think about you at home after the beating wondering where you should sleep tonight, how do you act when he comes back, hear his apologies till the next full beating? You are trying to find answers to these ‘little’ questions as he has just walked out to watch ‘Manto’ with his friends. He did not forget to take his little girl to Mac Donalds for a treat, so that her innocent friendship can be his and he can tell her, ‘it is not his fault.’ I think of you every day wondering if you managed to eat something and if your strength is back? I think of ways to get you out of this. What is the point of my ‘teaching’ and ‘research’ about violence against women, about feminist politics, if I cannot find a way out of this for us?

I don’t know if you are able to watch news sometimes. Did you know that both our countries (of which we are citizens) are presenting dossiers of each other’s terrorism to the UN? But what of the ‘terror’ no one sees, no one recognises? The ‘terror’ that women on both sides of the border live very moment of their lives. More women die of everyday violence at home than from those bombs and gun attacks which our politicians and governments have dutifully documented and even supported. To whom should we present our dossiers?

There are ways, but you need to walk the path with me…one step at a time. Small steps towards ‘freedom’. It is going to be difficult but not as much as it is now. And when you are free, together we will write those stories we promised. We will take our dossiers, our lives to Manto and tell him that the world he left is still very naked; and no one is even pretending to hide the nakedness.



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