It’s not everyday that the CEO of your company tells you, rather politely, “Okay, from now on, I will CC you in all the email threads.” The privilege of being an account manager was starting to get to my head – I felt like I had arrived.
Once you go through a transformation like that, you DO look back at yourself, how you started off and how far you’ve come, and try to figure out what the hell happened. How the fuck did things work out – so well? I mean, seriously, you don’t know the shit I’ve been through. You don’t know how much I sucked, and I still do, probably. Things have never ‘just worked out’ for me, so excuse me for being cynical when they do seem to work out. It makes you pause and reflect, and REALLY wonder if God might exist after all, for justice is not something you find in the natural order of things.
On the other hand, if I just sing along the song playing on my headphones, Maynard sings:
He had a lot to say,
he had a lot of nothing to say,
he had a lot to say,
he had a lot of of nothing – to – say!
get off your fucking cross
we need the fucking space
to nail the next fool martyr!”
Followed by a splendid lead that a true music lover like myself just can’t resist bobbing his head to, even if he’s surrounded by colleagues.
“To ascend you must die,
you must be crucified,
for our sins and our lies,
I despise religion from the bottom of my heart.
See, culturally, and, socially – in my family life, at least – I have been Muslim since I was born. I was born in Saudi Arabia, in Jeddah – a 90-minute drive away from Mecca. My grandfather, ‘whispered’ the Adaan (Muslim call for prayer) in my ear, and the first thing I ever tasted, was the purest, yummiest, most-hygienic form of honey.
By the time I was 10, I had already completed five pilgrimages (Hajj), numerous ‘mini-pilgrimages’ (Umrah), completed the recitation of the Quran twice and completed my early years of education at an American school. We traveled to Pakistan twice in this time, 6 months each on average, and both times my father cheated on my mother. See what I mean by the natural order of things?
So, how did I find out? Well, my mother told me. Sort of.
She told me my father always opened all his suitcases right in front of her except for this one Samsonite breed. That one, she said, he opened only after locking the room, in complete privacy.
So one day when my father was out, at work I guess, my mother tried to open the suitcase, and after some time, gave up and sat down, frustrated. That is when she thought it might be a good idea to ask ME to try.
I looked at the Samsonite case. It had 3 digits. Using simple logic (that the number had to be somewhere between 000 and 999) I started from 000 and kept checking every number one by one.
It was somewhere near the 200s when it snapped open. Both locks had the same code, and viola! Papa dearest was pictured with a hottie in our house – and then there was another one too amidst a separate stash of pictures! The third stack of pictures featured a third hottie, this time wearing my mother’s night-gown in one of the pictures. It was surreal.
For some reason I knew then that my mother would be upset with this. And reluctantly, being my obedient self, I went to tell her I had opened the suitcase and gave her the code on a piece of paper.
What followed were crazy times. They fought. A lot! Then after a few weeks they just started to co-exist without talking to each other all day.
Except when she called on our home phone. I didn’t know what to call her, so I called her ‘auntie’.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” would be her response if my mother picked up the phone. And then she’d just laugh at her, for several minutes sometimes, pitying her all the time.
At least, that’s what my mother told me. But if I picked it up, she would talk to me, ask me where my dad was, and tell me to ask my dad to call her back.
Like an obedient son, I would always pass her messages to my dad when he returned from work, only to be met with a slap or two, perhaps for breaking the news in front of my mother? I don’t know.
Shit hit the ceiling when he became abusive to my little sister as well – somehow girls get really attached to their fathers and my sister was no exception. Every morning it was a huge deal for her that he had to go to work. On one occasion, she hugged one of his legs tightly and refused to let go. My father jolted his leg violently, oblivious to where she might bang her head when she landed. Needless to say, my mother had had enough.
That episode marked the end of the fantastic mirage of a life I had lead in the kingdom. It was time to return to Pakistan.
The problem with getting your moral code from a religion is often the lack of guidelines it offers for all the grey areas. So you chop a thief’s hand off because Islam prescribes it in the Quran? Well, does it explain how a person with one hand will survive in this world?
Nope, there’s nothing.
Similarly, Islam goes at great lengths about the way husbands and wives should live together, but what does it say about divorce and separation? You guessed it, not much. All advice is aimed at reconciliation, and there’s not a word about how to go about life beyond divorce.
My mother had waived her right to divorce when she signed the marriage contract (Nikah) with my father, but she had no knowledge of it at the time. She had to file a law suit to obtain a ‘Khula’ in order to get divorced by my dad, but my father, aware of his privilege in the patriarchy, refused to sign it. He knew that she might be able to get married again if she got divorced, so he pledged to never sign it. He told her, “you will keep sitting in your parents’ home for the rest of your life,” as if to drive her to comply and return to him.
Of course she didn’t. I was above seven years of age, so I had to appear in court twice during the three years of court proceedings to confirm that I wanted to live with my mother. My testimony was to affect my little sister as well, since she was below 12 years of age and her testimony couldn’t count in a court of Islamic law. She would go wherever I went.
My father threatened to abduct us but twice we narrowly escaped it by hiding at a neighbor’s house.
Survival instincts tell us who we really are, as humans. There is no book of guidance that teaches us to hone our survival instincts. We simply adapt to our surroundings and try to make the best of them as we go through life.
And through life we went, albeit an endless stream of pitfalls, one after another. There is no easy way to imagine the life of a single mother trying to give her children the best while living in a male-dominated society. That too a woman who wasn’t designed to function as an independent woman in the first place.
We have survived, but we still have a long way to go. Fighting a patriarchal system as a man is a lot easier than fighting it as a woman. Sure there’s the occasional tinge of guilt as I feel I betray my fellow men. But what do they know about male privilege – it was passed down to them by their fathers, and they take it for granted everyday. I, on the other hand, never received it. But no, I don’t desire it. In fact, I reject it. The sad part is how the very people who suffered from it the most tell me to make use of my privilege.
So yes, I won the MNC’s account that my female peer did not, even though she has an MBA and works harder than me. (I only have a fancy bachelor’s degree and a talent she doesn’t have.) I also managed to gain our CEO’s trust. But this was not an act of misogyny – it was mere survival instinct.