R E V I E W – B O O K
Mehnaaz Pervin Tuli
“It has taken a long time. I don’t think Pakistan was ready for someone like me. But at the same time, I got a lot of support.”
This quote was pointed out by the courageous author Tehmina Durrani — after the publication of her book that turned out to be a European best-seller, but was banned in Pakistan for several years.
This courageous revelation by a Pakistani housewife pointing fingers at her prominent politician husband can drive the urge to read and finish up the autobiography My Feudal Lord. This book provides a good insight into the life of women in Pakistan having wealth, class, status, but with an agonising and cruel conjugal life. Alongside this, the book provides glimpses of misusing the power by big politicians, both in personal and professional life.
Oftentimes incidents of honour killing get published in newspapers, which means the perpetrator is a brother or the father of the victim. In the autobiography of Tehmina Durrani, the existence of brutal marginalisation and oppression both at the parental-home and in-laws, is pretty evident. It chews over the real façade of powerful feudal politicians in the privileged society of Pakistan, and the protuberant system of oppressing women and non-binary people under the aegis of religious doctrines.
The author Tehmina Durrani was raised in the privileged milieu of the Lahore high society. Muslim women of her status quo were expected to marry a wealthy Muslim man, bear him multiple children, maintain both class and glamour, and lead a luxurious life. Tehmina was unhappy at both her in-laws’ and parental home, as she was not valued as an individual anywhere. She was never loved and showed affection by her mother who only cared about maintaining an affluent lifestyle and a fair complexion. Tehmina was neither fair skinned nor good at maintaining glamour, and so she went through emotional turmoil since childhood.
Though she was adored and guarded by her father, her mother’s obsessive authority surpassed her father’s intention and striving. This was painful to hear out from Tehmina herself in the novel hinting towards her mother and other family members:
“Only over time, would I come to understand what a shock I was to my mother. She was a light skinned beauty and proud of it; her family was fair skinned and considered itself to be superior by that fact. A dark child was condemned to negligence.”
In her book, she instantiated how she felt completely alien at her parental home. It could be understood with the following sentence:
“Looking back, I realise that we were being raised to be schizophrenic, an appearance of perfection was more important than genuine feelings. There was no question of discovering oneself. Identity and individuality were crushed. Personality failed to develop. My mind became a sanctuary for secret thoughts of escaping from this household. But for that, there was no other goal but marriage.”
This might be one of the stimulators behind her decision to marry twice without thinking hard about the future each time. She wanted to escape from familial complexities and individual dilemma as a part of her family, but jumped into a guileful, slick relationship. Bonding with Mustafa Khar in her second marriage brought her nothing but pain and trauma. She broke out from her first marriage to be with this mysterious and haughty politician who was much older than her. Some say that it was her fatal flaw to leave her first marriage, even though it was dull. What I found a bit ignorant and sexist of other reviewers is that they failed to acknowledge her sufferings.
She not only fell in love with this charming man camouflaged with brutish attributes, but also hastened on her marriage with him. Mustafa Khar belonged to a certain group of people who could exercise their power at their best, and possess the licence of manipulating weaker people. He was often referred to as one of Punjab’s most powerful politicians who had affiliations with Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s party.
The novel was written back in 1991, but still manages to win hearts as it provides a heart wrenching depiction of the gender disparity in a contemporary Pakistani society – where patriarchs repress women. Tehmina, in her book, exemplified her privileged position of having wealth, luxury, and social status — yet lived like a modern slave that Mustafa Khar preferred. Even sex in married life was a strict symbol of domination and subjugation.
The narration in her book hints towards various possible violent acts in bed by chauvinist Mustafa Khar.
“There was not a day when Mustafa did not hit me.”
Tehmina was unfortunately a part of this abusive man’s life. She married a man who was 15 years older to her, and ironically, she was his sixth wife. From several narrations, it becomes evident that Mustafa mercilessly tortured his wives and daughters. Several times, Tehmina revealed the ruthless, brutal attitude towards their daughter Naseeba that crossed the limits. Mustafa did not hesitate to push Naseeba’s head into the water when she was just an infant, and the reason was to stop the baby from wailing.
Reading the narration in slow pace, some readers may get an incandescent spleen towards Tehmina — for not realising the harm done to her soul and her daughters — that surpassed social bindings. However, Tehmina was vanquished and subjugated to the extent that her soul and body responded to nothing but fear. She not only got hurt from her feudal-lord husband, but was disowned by her own family, including her mother and sister. She feared losing the custody of her children if she stood against the Lion of Punjab Mustafa Khar. She herself chose Mustafa and stepped into the gutter, hence she couldn’t blame her own family or seek complete shelter from them. Nonetheless, she was also scared of her mother and wanted to avoid the discomfort associated with her mother and her household. All these factors went so deep that you will have to give in to the confusion and helplessness with Tehmina.
“Feudalism was a licence to plunder, rape, and even murder. Some feudal families utilised Islam as a weapon of control.”
The word ‘feudalism’ is more like a curse for Pakistani society that has lingered since independence in 1947, and later illustrated as the biggest blight of Pakistan’s development. Many of Pakistan’s most renowned politicians were feudal lords, including Zulfikar Ali and Mustafa Khar. Reading through the book, the non-native readers can understand the slow degradation of Feudal laws that only existed to let some prominent male leaders and landowners exercise power at its best.
As remarked by The Age, Melbourne,
“Riveting…one of the many remarkable qualities of Durrani’s story is her total frankness…she emerges as a woman to be admired.”
Durrani exposed her chauvinistic husband’s political ambitions in this book, as well as his violent behaviour behind closed doors. It must have taken a great deal of courage for her to pen all these down, as her culture has historically swept such issues under the carpet.
At the end, the author detached herself from the long, perplexing shackles of marriage, and the fear of filing divorce. She had to take the chance of losing everything — her honour, financial back up, children, and surprisingly, her life too. She left behind her needs and custody of children, but acquired her courage, dignity, and free soul by publishing this acetous mystery romance and life story just by herself. Even after these long torturous years of confinement, the downheartedness by her parents while she chose to divorce Mustafa will create balls of fire from the readers towards the venerable position of many well off Pakistani families.
Getting advised by the father, “You will leave his home in a coffin,” and getting absurd explanations from the mother like, “Deal with him like a psychiatrist,” will make the reader think about the whole ideological structures of marriage and commitment, especially in the Asian sub-continent.
Many things might seem strange, over the top, and hard to believe, as a woman from a Muslim society openly talked about leaving the fear of demolishment behind. Twenty-two years since its publication, Tehmina Durrani’s autobiography still remains relevant in Pakistan. Hence, you can pick up the book and delve into the real but surreal incidents.
Tuli likes to have small talks with people of various cultures, religions, and races. She can’t sit at home and would prefer living out of a suitcase at any time.