She despised the idea of going to the hospital. The sight of white coats, injections, sitting for long hours staring at others was unsettling for her. For the past 10 days, she has been in the ICU. What she dreaded all through her life has haunted her every hour over the last one decade. My grandmother, a cheerful, outspoken woman, in her late 80s has always lived her life to the fullest.
With a hump on her back, having Mongolian lineage, make her features and traits resemble that of the mighty tribe. She never stops herself from speaking her mind and this often becomes the reason for more arguments that keep coming our way in the house.
But that doesn't stop us from loving her. She is caring and lovable towards all of her grandchildren. Getting married at 14 was a common practice in those days. She bore her first child at the age of 16. Education was strictly denied to girls then, besides, the purdah system was followed strictly back then. Even the rickshaw pullers would hang a sheet in their rickshaws out of 'Haya' (modesty).
I remember Naani often giving us late-night lectures on the role of haya in a woman's life. It is the essence of her being. According to her, if a woman does not possess haya, she becomes Behaya [immodest]. And purdah was the hallmark of it. Covering oneself in black cloth means you are safe from the unwanted gaze, as a woman.
Despite all these strong reasons, she never gave me even a single satisfactory answer as to why only a woman is responsible for that unwanted gaze? Why shouldn't the other one (man) be held responsible for the same? Is it written somewhere or am I just getting to hear the unwritten annals of history which have, with time, been termed as 'customs' or practices?
I always wondered, why do women have to hide their faces or even their entire identities when it comes to stepping out of the house? Naani and I would often end up debating over 'whose right is more right' and 'whose wrong is more wrong.'
But she would never give up. Like a royalty her views would always take precedence over everything else in the house. Be it her opinions or orders. In the end, it would be me who had to give up. I would tell Nani that while I would keep questioning those beliefs, I would keep loving her at the same time.
Now that she is in the hospital due to old-age ailments, I miss our talks. I miss how she'd often start slapping me for going overboard with my questions on religion, customs and culture in general.
Then again, Naani would begin consoling me by narrating the glorious history of our forefathers. Those Rampuri Nawabs, their varied interests, richly dipped in royalty; the sight of servants all over the house. Naani narrates this all with so much ease as if she is sitting there already; in those glorious days when everything was so calm and easy.
No woman would rise to question her suppression, no woman would ask about her rights in those old days. Theirs was the life, in true sense and spirit. To her what counts as a quality in a woman is the degree of silence that she can maintain against every wrong committed against her. 'More the silence, more the scale of goodness in you.'
I would often ask my grandmother how the daughters of Genghis Khan saved his empire. How courageously they ruled, fought the enemies and lived life on their own terms. You too belong to this lineage Naani, how fair is it for you to surrender to these artificial customs?Society. The only term that her grandchildren get to hear, as the last of her answers, to our dismay. But as far as I can see and say, it happens to be a perpetual cycle, only to be continued by women themselves. This is how it becomes custom, then takes the form of commonly held beliefs.
Because we fail to question, we, as women, see it as an easier way to just surrender and go into silent mode. Is it right or wrong? Is it way too objective or subjective, can only be discussed once she recovers and comes back home? Until then let us ponder over this vicious cycle of perpetuity.
Hina Fatima Khan is an Independent Multimedia Journalist who thoroughly enjoys writing on Social Issues, Space and World Affairs.