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REFLECTIONS ON ZOHRA ZOBERI’S PLAY FROM THE WIDOW’S CLOSET

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My creative friends Zahra Naqvi, an artist and a social activist, and Askari Naqvi, a musician and singer, joined me to see my dear friend Zohra Zoberi’s play, From the Widow’s Closet  on June 21st, 2009 in an open air theatre in Mississauga. In the past Zohra Zoberi has written and produced a number of award winning plays and hundreds of people came to enjoy them. She likes to bridge the gap between different cultures and religions and believes in enlightenment through entertainment. Those plays are her genuine and creative efforts to raise social consciousness. During that half an hour performance, her cast tried to do the best in spite of the outdoor challenges.

            It was a story about the romantic struggles of a Pakistani widow Zahida, who lives with her son and daughter-in-law in Canada. In the beginning of the play she is sad and depressed as she is grieving the loss of her husband and the role of a traditional wife. Her family is concerned and her daughter in law wonders whether she might benefit from seeing a therapist. Her son feels she would recover and go on with her life, reflecting the attitude of many men, especially Asian men, who are reluctant to get psychological help for emotional and family problems.

            Luckily, Zahida has an Indian friend Rekha, who is also a widow. She is a charming social worker. She encourages Zahida to socialize and make friends, male as well as female. In spite of their religious and cultural differences they can relate to those women’s sufferings who live in traditional families and religious cultures. Rekha introduces her to a Jewsish neighbor Allen Zimmerman. In spite of her reluctance, Zahida dares to step out of her widow’s closet and goes out on social dates. Allen tries to make dates romantic, but Zahida has a hard time overcoming her inhibitions. While socializing with Allen Zimmerman she also meets a tall, dark and handsome Pakistani man Tahir Usman. Within a short time Zahida has two men in her life who are interested in her. Zahida’s family see a pleasant change in her as wants to have her own key to the house. They are pleased with her independence.

            As the story evolves Zahida’s emotional and social conflict escalates. On one hand she feels guilty going out with men and on the other hand she struggles with ‘what would other people say?” Her friend Rekha encourages her to have fun and enjoy her life but her social conditioning continues on holding her back. The play reaches a climax when Zahida informs her son and daughter-in -law that she has two proposals, one from a Muslim and the other from a Jewish man. Hearing that news her son gets very upset and angry and acts like a male chauvinist. His wife seems more supportive of her mother-in-law than her own son as she relates to her as a woman. It was amazing to see Zahida transform from a sad and melancholic woman to a happy and exuberant woman who has fallen in love. Finally she announces that she would marry the one who will make her most happy.

            While we were driving back my friend Zahra Naqvi, a strong advocate of women’s rights stated that the play raised a serious question of human psychology and asked me, “How can Eastern Muslim women overcome the social conditioning done by their traditional families and religious cultures?” I shared with her that based on my personal, social and professional experiences as an Eastern psychotherapist living and practicing in the West, I can say that the emotional liberation of Eastern women is on the one hand related to their personal intellectual freedom and on the other hand connected with social freedom. It is relatively easy for conservative Muslim women to become liberated in secular Canada than those religious Muslim countries, where they do not have equal rights. In Canada they have legal and social protection.

            It was interesting to see that even after taking many steps of liberation Zahida could only celebrate her love inside the institution of marriage. It seems as if she was half liberated, liberated to marry a Jewish man but not liberated enough to celebrate pure love of two sweethearts without the institution of marriage.

            I would like to congratulate Sawitri Productions for producing such a wonderful play and Zohra Zoberi for writing and directing a play that was intellectually stimulating and inspiring Muslim women to take control of their future and take steps to look after themselves. They have been good in the roles of wives and mothers but now, living in Canada, they can learn to become sweethearts and enjoy the magic of love.