Aamir Sahab married me when I was 17 and he, 33.
The world had left its imprints on the moon, but the people in my family, my district and my society had not moved an inch from their customs and norms. The funniest part was, they thought they were moving ahead with the world just because they sent their kids abroad for education and provided them with the latest iPhones and iPads.
I studied in international institutes all my life, but my name and my roots clung to me like leeches. There was no escaping the norms my father had set for me. So, when he smelled the slight aroma of rebellion in my behaviour, he got me married.
Aamir Sahab was tall, well-built and slightly dark. He had those sad, greyish bluish eyes that when I saw him for the first time; for a moment I forgot he was twice my age and had no remorse or shame in getting married to me against my will. I had conveyed my displeasure to him via reliable sources, hoping that he was in an age and position to say no. He was a man and if he had said no, his opinion would have been considered.
In our culture, women did not have a say in these things. Especially young women.
Aamir Sahab had already married years ago. His wife had died in labour while birthing their second child. He had been alone ever since, which was about 5 years now. Tying me to him was my father’s way of showing me that he still had absolute control over my life and I should consider whatever freedom I get, a privilege.
On our wedding night, I was taken to Gulfaam Manzil. Gulfaam Manzil was the second-best Haweli of our district, the best one belonged to my father. These huge palace-like houses were mere cages for me. I felt suffocated. I missed my dormitory back in London. And the fun I had with other girls, in the convent. This was who I was, a young girl. I wanted to go back to my high school, not sleep with a stranger.
I cried all the time. The moment they pronounced me his wife, tears started flooding my face. No one took note of that. Or maybe I was the perfect bride who had her head low and was crying.
Aamir Sahab was in the other section of the terrace after the wedding, chatting with other males with his hookah lit. I was surrounded by women who were singing folk songs while I just cried.
My tears became more profuse when we reached Gulfaam Manzil and they were taking me to his room. My aunt-in-law told me to stop crying and fix myself before my ‘husband’ arrived. He shouldn’t be disappointed and get irritated by my mess.
Eventually, they settled me on that decorated bed and left me on my own. I anticipated my doom as I waited for him in that room. I don’t know when I fell asleep, but I woke up alone, the other side of the bed was still untouched.
I don’t know if I was relieved by the fact that I wasn’t forced to sleep with him or I was upset that my so-called husband probably didn’t enter the room because he was wasted somewhere, drunk and high getting entertained by another woman.
However, the next night, when he did enter the room; I realised I was only relieved a night ago and never upset. I jumped the moment he bolted the door. I had nowhere to go. So I froze. I froze on that soft bed adorned with the best sheets in the world. I knew so many people who would die for such luxury while I hated every bit of it.
He sat down next to me and looked at me. And then he just kept looking.
He was drunk. I could sense it in his eyes and his breath. He just would not stop staring!! I was getting uncomfortable, but I didn’t look away. I was scared that if I did, he would touch me. It was something I dreaded.
But then, he did touch me. He caressed my hair and put them behind my ear and then he touched the heavy jhumka I was wearing in my ear. My ear lobes were already paining by the load and when he held them, the pain just got unbearable. Instinctively, I shut my eyes and could not help the teardrop from falling.
When he gently wiped that teardrop, my body repelled his touch and I opened my eyes immediately. I could see lust floating in those orbs. He was so close to me that his foul breath directly fell on my face. I just wanted to push him away. But he was so big and strong, I didn’t want to instigate his ego.
He removed my earrings and placed them on the side table. Even though I hated every minute of his proximity, it was a relief to be able to get rid of those heavy objects I was forced to decorate myself with.
“You are so beautiful,” he said with a voice so husky that it sent chills down my spine.
I dared not to look into his eyes.
“Tell me, what do you want? I will get it for you, Shaheen!” his tone was getting huskier.
I don’t know what gave me courage but I said, “I…I…uh… I want to finish grad school before I….I… become your wife….”
He started laughing.
I didn’t know what was coming next. Was he going to hit me? Or force himself upon me? Or just leave and lock me? Talk to my father about this?
“Usually women ask for diamond necklaces or even property. You are different even though you were never too far from the traditions. How old are you?”
“Hmm…too young.” He spread himself on the bed next to me, “My Fatima is thirteen. She likes to study too. Come here, lie down with me.”
I obliged. What option did I have?
“You are nothing like Sanobar.” I think he was talking about his first wife. “She was so calm, polite, and obedient.”
And then he smiled to himself. I was not saying a word.
“I got your letter. But even men can’t say no to your father, Shaheen. No one says no to Murad Sahab. And I didn’t even want to say no. You’re different, beautiful. And now, mine.”
Once again, a chill ran through me. He touched my cheeks.
“I cannot let you go very far from my sight, Shaheen. You can graduate from the district university. I will get you the forms. Now face that side, and just sleep. I will not come in your room from tomorrow till you graduate.”
He just placed an arm around my stomach and I didn’t retaliate. It was nothing in comparison with what I had got. I could not believe that he agreed!! District University wasn’t my dream university but it was something!! And he gave me time! I could think of something, couldn’t I? I could find a way to leave this place. He was equipping me with education. Aamir Sahab was known for his word. I knew if he said he would let me study then he would.
The next day, when I woke up, Aamir Sahab was gone. It was a relief on one end, but I wanted to secure my admission to the university before anything happened to change his mind. So I dressed up and set out to look for him. Gulfaam Manzil was a new place for me, I was as lost in that house as I felt in my life. I kept asking the servants for directions and his whereabouts. I learned that the room I was staying in was my room and his room was separate. I was confused for some time but then I realised I had no place in his room anyway. Even as his wife, I wasn’t ever going to share his life. He would’ve come to me when he pleased. I didn’t know what to call myself. But I was definitely not going to degrade myself because of the status this terrible society gave me.
I located his room. Ensured my duppata was well placed before I knocked on his door. He was having his tea when he turned to look at the door. Without a doubt, he was pleasantly surprised and invited me to enter inside.
I stood right there and came right at the business, “can I go to the university to get the forms?”
“Sure. After you have tea with me…” he had a devilish smile on his face as he said that.
He knew I was uncomfortable, hell, I had been so harsh in the letter I had written to him. My plan was to wound his ego, and I definitely had. I was waiting for it to strike but till then, I was trying to fight.
I hesitantly entered the room and settled on the chair opposite him. Everything in his room was so grand and expensive, I wondered what did he even do with those things? Aamir Sahab was the personification of luxury. My father had more money and power, but Aamir Sahab could beat even him with his grandeur. The way he dressed, carried himself, the things he bought, his habits, addictions, interests everything was over the top. Even I never exploited my father’s wealth like that!
While we had tea, he didn’t attempt to strike conversation with me. He just kept looking at me from time to time, when he wasn’t reading his newspaper. I just looked outside the window which was quite far and I could only see the sky from there.
After the torturous fifteen minutes, I was free to go to university. I did not only take the form but also finished the entire admission process in one go. The new academic year was about to begin within two weeks. If I looked at the bright side I had only two weeks of the stay at home torture, but I wasn’t in a position to look at the bright side. For me, two weeks in Gulfaam Manzil were more than two months.
I didn’t know anybody there and I wasn’t even interested to know anyone. I was just busy planning my escape. That night, Aamir Sahab summoned me when I was in my room. Anxiety kicked me in the gut but I followed the servant into the second-floor terrace. He was smoking pipe, sitting on his long and grand swing. If I were not with Aamir Sahab and in this situation, I would’ve appreciated how chilly and starry the night was. On another day, I would’ve enjoyed it.
Aamir Sahab asked me to sit next to him and dismissed the servant.
“So, you finished the admission process?” he asked.
He knew. He already knew. Of course. Aamir Sahab was the second most important man in the district and the son-in-law of the most important man. How could he not know?
I just nodded my head.
“Grad school is three years, Shaheen!” he didn’t scream but his tone was so terrifying that I shivered from head to toe.
“But…I… I… wanted to pursue law… it takes five years…” I tried to sound confident but my voice broke.
He took in a very long breath.
“Your father told me that it is a big mistake to let you do this.”
“You…you… promised…” I was hardly audible.
If rage had a form, it would be Aamir Sahab at that moment.
He held my wrists and pulled me close with such great force that the lac in my gold bangles deformed but I didn’t even sigh.
“Keep in mind, Shaheen. Three years or five, you remain mine. Try everything you can, my name would not leave your existence alone. How much ever you try to run, hide and avoid, I will keep an eye on you like a hawk and chase you wherever you go! You are just instigating the tiger in me!”
I didn’t say a word. I knew he was going to react. Then he picked up the diamond bangles kept on the table in front of him and thrust them forcefully in my hands.
“These are 2 sizes small for you. Do not even try to remove them. They will remind you of who you belong to and where you have to go back no matter where you reach and what you do! If I ever see you without these bangles, I will forget I have promised anything to you! Keep that in mind!”
And then he released me.
My hands were swollen for the rest of the two weeks I was home and his fingers had left marks on my hands. I was still not facing much in the bargain. The news of me joining university travelled fast in the house and every person-in-law looked at me with disgust as if obtaining education was a filthy thing to do. By the end of the first week, I heard that my aunt-in-law suggested, Aamir Sahab should get married again.
I didn’t have a problem. It would’ve made it all the more easy for me to get out. Well, maybe not. Aamir Sahab would never make it easy for me.
TO BE CONTINUED…..