By - Dr. Khalid Sohail
A SHORT STORY
CREATED IN URDU BY SHAKILA RAFIQ
RE-CREATED IN ENGLISH BY KHALID SOHAIL
She does the same thing every time she enters the television
lounge. She snatches the remote from my hand, changes the
television channel and starts watching the movie with great
interest and enthusiasm. It does not matter to her which
movie is on and whether it is the beginning, middle or end
of the movie. While she is watching the movie, a secret wish
whispers in my heart. And then suddenly my wish comes true
and our son Ehsan appears from nowhere, snatches the remote
from his mother’s hand, changes the channel and starts
listening to the music. Zarreen does nor object to her son’s
intrusion. She gives him a casual look and leaves the room.
After she is gone, Ehsan asks me, “ Dad, do you want your
news channel back?”
And I just
laugh loud and get up. By that time I don’t care about
watching news anymore as I want to enjoy the sadistic
pleasure seeing Zarreen being deprived of her favourite
channel by her son. I am becoming aware that I have been
harboring a secret wish for a long time that Zarreen is
deprived of her favourite movie channel…actually deprived of
everything she loves so that she becomes unhappy and
miserable. I want her to suffer. I want her to feel hopeless
and helpless like a fly stuck in a spider web. My wish is
temporarily fulfilled when Ehsan snatches the remote from
Zarreen’s hand and I feel happy.
By this time
you must be wondering that I am one of those husbands who
love to abuse and torture their wives. But I hope you
realize that there are also many wives in the world who love
to abuse and torture their husbands. Did you ever think of
But then how
would you think of that because you have no idea how much
Zarreen has hurt me. She is just temporarily deprived of her
favourite channel while I am permanently deprived of my
home. It is because of her that I have been living like a
second-class citizen in a strange land, thousands of miles
away from my homeland. She says she loves freedom, the same
freedom that has become my prison.
gradually realizing that in my intimate relationship I have
become a coward and lost all my power and control. In my
marriage I am not more than a toy in my wife’s hands. In the
beginning I resisted her control for a while but in the end
I lost and she won the war. I became a prisoner of my own
marriage. She is so proud to be a winner. Her wonderful
smile constantly reminds me of being a loser. Her eternal
smile only disappears temporarily when Ehsan snatches the
remote from her hand. She fears her younger two children
might grow up and take further control away from her. For
the time being they are too small and she keeps full control
of their lives. My role in their lives is not more than
giving them hugs and kisses and sharing my affection with
them in the mornings and in the evenings.
Now that I
am watching news I realize that CNN depresses me. I am
realizing how egocentric we have become. We have immigrated
to the land of fortune to enjoy life and live in luxury.
When I look at the sunken faces and emaciated bodies of
Somali and Ethiopian children, I can count their ribs. They
remind me of spare ribs of Swiss Challet and I feel a
choking sensation in my throat. I drink a sip of coke to
clear my throat and look away for a while. When I look back
at the screen I see the atrocities of Kashmir,
Bosnia, Lebanon and Palestine. I ask myself,
happening all over the world?”
“ Why is it
“Why are we
seeing all these abuses and murders and rapes and tortures?”
“ Where do these vultures of violence come from?”
“ What happened to the song of
“Why are the plants of peace and
justice not thriving?”
I wonder what would happen to the world after
justice is abused by power and peace killed by weapons of
I question myself:
“Why am I here?”
“Why are we all here?”
I got up to leave the room, trying
my best not to lose my sanity.
Every week after dealing my
domestic problems I go to a distant shop in the middle of
downtown after traveling in three buses to buy my favourite
newspapers. These are the Urdu newspapers from Pakistan.
Although they are stale but they bring temporary freshness
to my life because they are full of news from my distant
motherland. But then after I have read the news, I get
depressed and then feel overwhelmed by guilt. I worry about
my native country: its poverty, bigotry and prejudice.
Everybody is trying to deceive others to be successful. I
feel guilty because people in my small village in the East
are suffering while I am enjoying a luxurious life in a big
city in the West. “Why do people in the West have everything
we are deprived of?” I ask myself.
“Why can’t we improve our lifestyle?”
While reading the newspaper in my bedroom, I
feel so guilty and anxious that I throw away the newspaper
on the floor and call for Zarreen in a panic. She comes for
my rescue, feeling scared, with remote in her hand.
“What happened? Why are you screaming?” she
“ Water. Please give me some water.” I beg.
She brings me a glass of water and I drink
the whole glass in one gulp, without taking a breath.
“What happens to you … suddenly?” She sounds
“If there is a problem at home, one does not
run away?” I questioned her.
“Then why did you leave?” She confronted me.
“How could I have done it alone. You know we
need the whole family’s cooperation to solve a family
“You know I did not want to live in a country
where women feel imprisoned in their own homes… where women
experience poverty, dishonesty, deceit. I knew it wasn’t for
“But do you ever think why all those curses
do not exist in the West. Maybe they are following the
traditions and guidelines that we were supposed to follow.
Who is responsible for all that, I wonder?”
She gets up raising her hands in
“I am in no mood to listen to this lecture. I
want to be free and lead a carefree life. I love my
“Do you believe that women in the West are
“Yes, I do” she responded.
“ You live in a fool’s paradise” Finally I
spoke my mind. Her silence encouraged me to say more, “Women
in the West are far more exploited than the women in the
East. They suffer both ways…”
”You need some rest to calm your nerves.” She helped me lie
down, tucked me under a comforter and said, “Rest for a
while. It will help you get some peace of mind.”
“Peace of mind” I mumbled. When I tried to
look at her, she had already left the bedroom.
So much time has passed since that encounter.
Our children have grown up. Nazli has been taking dancing
lessons for a while and has become a well-respected dancer
in town. Ehsan finished his education, got a job and married
a local girl. She visits us every Sunday morning and chats
with us for a while. Then she puts her arm around Ehsan,
gives us a kiss on the cheek and takes him to church. We
watch them go together and smile. Adil, the youngest child
is still in school. He likes a Western girl also who is a
few years older. She visits us off and on and loves to eat
somasas and other Asian snacks. He tells us she is
just a friend and they have to get to know each other before
they discuss marriage. How can you tell these young people,
you don’t really get to know someone well until you marry
and live with that person? But these are my thoughts. They
might consider me old fashioned. These days you cannot tell
anything to this new generation as they think they know
everything and the older generation does not know anything.
Never ever try to tell them anything. And if you try they
will smile, kiss you on the cheek and say. “How sweet”
before they walk away as if saying, “ How you can be so
It is the same dumbness that keeps
me silent when I see my daughter come late at night and
accept my son not seeing me for months. As far as my family
is concerned I have lost control a long time ago. I have
compromised with my circumstances. I have given in and given
After a long time Zarreen came to
my room. I welcomed her with a smile. But she looked tired
and drained and exhausted like a wrung out towel.
“What happened?” I asked in a surprised note.
“ Let us go back. Let us go home, to our
She looked shattered. I couldn’t believe my
eyes. I felt so shocked I got up and sat down in my bed.
“What do you think?” she asked impatiently.
“ I think it is too late now…”