GIVE ME THE REMOTE

  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 those women?

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.

I am 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,

“What is happening all over the world?”

“ Why is it happening?”

“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 love?”

          “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 mass destruction?

          I question myself:

          “Why am I here?”

          “Why are we all here?”

          “What is the difference in living in this or that country, in this or that community, in this or that continent?”

All those questions dance in my mind making me feel giddy. “Would we have starved to death in our homelands eating one loaf of bread rather than two?”

          The reality is that we are all afraid of death. In our short lives on earth we want to have and collect all we can. Our greed has no limit. It is our lust to own more that forces us to emigrate to different countries and continents and we call it ‘emigration”, what a euphemism. In our attempt to deceive others we end up deceiving ourselves.

          While I was watching news I got lost in the labyrinth of my own thoughts. Now I am watching the news again. I am perturbed to see the gang rape of women in Kashmir, sufferings of Bosnian Muslims, food shortages in Africa and the miseries of Lebanon and Palestine. And whenever I pick up my bankbook to write a check of donation to these troubled communities, Zarreen appears from nowhere, snatches my checkbook and says, “ How are we going to pay our bills?” Then she picks up the remote, changes the channel and says, “ Why do you always watch these famines? They make me sick.”

“I just have a secret wish?” I respond.

“And what is that?”

“ I wish…I could control the whole world with one remote…I wish.”

“ And if you were granted that wish, then what would you have done?”

“ I would have the whole world on one channel.”

“And what channel would that be?”

“ A channel of love, peace…and mutual cooperation.”

Zarreen looks at me in a strange way as if I am living in a fantasy world or have lost my mind.

“You are always worried about your movies and hedonistic lifestyle…this channel of current affairs is very important.” I try to justify my sanity and social conscience…but she stares at me with vacant barren eyes.”

“On one hand you do not pay for Pakistani Television so that I can watch my favourite Asian movies and then you try to take away whatever little opportunity I get to see Western movies. I think we need three TV sets. One for me to watch movies, one for our dear son to watch flash dance and the third for you to watch world famines.” I can smell a flavour of sarcasm in her voice.

“Why three, why not five. We have two small children too. Maybe they want to watch cartoons.” My voice becomes full of cactus plants.

“One day we will be able to afford five TV sets too…with the grace of God.”

“God” I mumbled and looked at her but she, oblivious to her environment, was deeply absorbed in her favourite movie.

          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 seems annoyed.

“ 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 irritated.

“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 problem.”

“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 me.”

“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 frustration.

“I am in no mood to listen to this lecture. I want to be free and lead a carefree life. I love my freedom.”

“Do you believe that women in the West are free?”

“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 dumb”.

          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 up.

                             …………………………

          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 homeland”.

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…”

                             ……………………………

 

 

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