You and your cursed tongue

Published: August 23, 2013
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Everything changed a year after my marriage when I got pregnant. PHOTO: AFP

“Rashid, nooooo! Stop! For the love of the Almighty, stop!”

My incessant pleas fell on deaf ears. By now my voice had transformed from a high-pitched wail to a dry, hoarse moan, stuck deep in my throat. I watched helplessly as he picked up that shovel, desperately trying to free myself of the fetters. I could see his thick-shouldered frame shifting laboriously from the mound of earth to the deep grave-like trench dug in the ground.

“I told you, your tongue was cursed!”

He grumbled, his voice dripping with frustration.

I had to do something, but what?

I tried to wrestle my way out of the panic that gripped me. But what I did not know was that Rashid, too, was in a similar state. The fear inside of him had built up enough to erupt into fury and violence. He splashed something on my face; it was cold and immediately I felt like my face was on fire.

I am Shahnaz. When I was 17-years-old, I was married off to an old, sturdy village boy named Rashid. A year before my marriage, Rashid had lent my father some money which he was unable to repay and in a society like mine, most of the time, when you are unable to pay off a debt, it costs you your daughter.

Before my marriage, people around the village admired me greatly for my modesty and chastity, which is why many women had set their eyes on me as their future daughter-in-law and at times, the stream of marriage proposals seemed unending. I was envied by most of the girls in my area, many of whom spent a sizeable part of their youth awaiting a good suitor. However, most of the proposals that came my way were rejected by my mother, mainly because of the financially straitened conditions of our household and their fancy demands for jahaiz.

Like every other young girl, I was foolish. I longed for a prince charming who’d whisk me away to some faraway place, out of this suffocating and dull village life.

Unfortunately, Rashid turned out to be a stone-hearted man. He wasn’t my knight in shining armour. Our marriage lacked the attraction and intimacy that the other couples around us shared; it felt like an relationship of compulsion.

This soon changed, however, a year after my marriage when I got pregnant. Rashid was surprisingly affectionate. Those nine months had endeared me to him, not as the bearer of his child but, as the bearer of his son, his waris (heir), who would carry on his name, work and earn for him, be his guardian when he would grow old and frail. He had high expectations.

His infatuation with a male child annoyed me and once, I even summoned the courage to speak my heart out. It was dark; he was sitting outside on a charpoy, with his back towards me:

“You know, you shouldn’t get your hopes too high. What if it’s a daughter?”

He jerked his head around, his eyes, dark and penetrating, glaring right at me, and hissed with a tone that made a lump rise in my throat:

“Don’t you ever speak of a daughter with your cursed tongue!”

Even in the darkness, I could see it in his eyes and sense it in the finality of his tone, how criminal it would be to give birth to a daughter.

Three months after that night, I opened my eyes to find myself in a dingy clinic room. A middle-aged woman, dressed in a starched white coat, was standing by the bedside, cradling a baby, something I recognised to be a younger, more beautiful version of myself.

“Congratulations! Allah (SWT) has blessed you with a baby daughter.”

Those words made my heart lurch as I fought back conflicting emotions of happiness and utter dismay…

Late that day, I saw as the fistfuls of earth which Rashid so relentlessly kept shoving in to her grave. They swallowed her pinching wail and so, before she even had a chance to fully awaken herself to her surroundings, she departed this world.

He killed my baby girl.

It took Rashid a few moments and a bottle of acid to kill my daughter, maim my face and abandon me. It took me a lifetime to adapt to the reality.

I can’t help but notice how the tragedy makes me view this world as a place seeped in different shades of ignorance, fraught with people like Rashid, colouring our impassive approach towards humanity and suffering. I wish I could replace these colours with hues of love and compassion. But I can’t.

I am in a place where the victim is the one imprisoned, condemned to a life of despair, while the perpetrator roams around unfettered and unpunished. Such is my life.

Maniha Aftab

Maniha Aftab

The author is currently an undergraduate at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. She is also an aspiring writer, an avid reader and a prolific procrastinator.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.