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Escape from a feudal bondage

This is my first book review on this blog. I couldn’t resist not discussing about this book, which talks about an issue widely prevalent in South Asian countries including India. Although the book came out 19 years ago, there has been a marginal improvement in the subject related to women dealt in the book, which you will read below. Do share your opinion on the post.

My Feudal Lord/ Pic source: www.goodreads.com

My Feudal Lord/ Pic source: http://www.goodreads.com

One this International Women’s Day, I was finishing up Tehmina Durrani’s My Feudal Lord. The cover of the book introduces it as ‘A devastating indictment of women’s role in Muslim society’.

As the name suggests, this 382 page autobiography is a heady concoction of adultery, politics, treachery, power play, incest and the quest for freedom. Durrani was the sixth wife of Mustafa Khar, one of Punjab’s feudal lords and former chief minister and governor of Punjab province. (Khar is uncle of current foreign minister Heena Rabbani Khar)

Set between 1974 and 1990, the books gives a glimpse of powerful Pakistani feudal system, especially in Punjab province, the affluent class of society and the ill-treatment of women by their husbands, families and society, besides offering an inside peek into the tumultuous political environment.

She also introduces her pseudo-liberal family (who act like liberals but think conservatively), who live a dual life and behave like Ostriches when trouble comes knocking on their door. Durrani states that her family, especially her mother, offers little support during her troubled married life with Khar. Her father, after the publication of this book, issues a public notice disowning and disinheriting her.

The book opens with Durrani attending a party hosted by the Spanish consulate. The year is 1974, Durrani is married and mother to young child. It is there, she is introduced to the ‘Lion of Punjab’, a name given by Khar by his followers. Describing her first marriage as love-less, Durrani instantly gets attracted to Khar, who is portrayed as a smooth operator. Khar, initially, appears as a charming, understanding and courteous man in spite of coming from a conventional upbringing. Khar is still married, when Durrani begins and affair with him, despite repeatedly warned of his temper and ill-treatment of women in his life.

Soon after her wedding, she witnesses Khar’s irrational rage towards the maid, a victim of feudal system, and his fifth wife, who also lives in the same house. Soon, Khar divorces his fifth wife with Durrani becoming the sole subject of his terror. In fact, the physical and emotional abuse escalates with Durrani slowly losing hope of reforming her husband. Her four children from Khar, also live in constant fear. To add insult to injury, Khar starts a relation with Durrani’s 13-year-old sister, which is again comes to life, when Khar is freed as a political prisoner later on. Durrani suffers through all this because “divorcee – in the feudal system, is a dismal destiny”.

Durrani also narrates in detail Khar’s political journey, his relationship with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as his protégé, Khar’s exile to England during the military rule, his return as a political prisoner. There is also mention of Indira Gandhi meeting Khar, during his exile in England, where Gandhi agrees to wage war against Pakistan when it comes under the dictatorship of Zia-ul-Haq. Ironically, Khar joins the proxy government as Cabinet minister by the time Durrani divorces him; after three previous attempts. Her children, a daughter from first marriage and four children with Khar, live with her.

She then decides to break the veil of silence and hypocrisy by deciding to write about it. At the end of the book, when Khar comes to know about the book, he calls her to inquire about it. Durrani tells him, “Well, Mustafa, now the world will soon know you only as Tehmina Durrani’s ex-husband.”

It’s interesting to note how Durrani mentions her ex-husband in the Dedication section, where she writes, “I wish that this book might serve as a mirror, so that he may see in it reflections of the man, the husband, the father, the leader and the friend he is”.

Despite the noticeable spelling errors, the story is compelling and captivating. In fact, there several times, I felt murderous rage against Khar and Durrani’s sister Adila, with whom he carried on an affair. You can feel her frustration, lack of confidence and courage, her conviction in her husband’s political ideologies, and her entrapment in an abusive marriage.

Not surprisingly, the book created a ripple in the Pakistani high society for bringing skeletons out of the closet. Incidentally, Pakistan’s national assembly, which after many years has managed to complete a full term, passed legislation against domestic violence, workplace harassment, anti-women practices and elevating the status of commission on women, yesterday. An encouraging sign for the women of the country no doubt, but how well will the law translate on-ground remains to be seen.

Writers: Tehmina Durrani with William and Marilyn Hoffer

Publisher: Corgi

First edition of book: 1990

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One comment on “Escape from a feudal bondage

  1. I feel that Tehmina has immense strength to bear all that she did she is a passionate woman who does not settle for mediocrity. It’s commendable that she broke away from tradition even though her upbringing was to the contrary.

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