Eldest of six siblings, Alishba had a normal childhood as far as her village was concerned. A typical day consisted of helping her mother with household chores and playing with siblings and friends. Her father, a carpenter by profession, would flee from home for days on end. Because of his unreliability none of Alishba’s siblings went to school, and unfortunately that too was an accepted norm. Her mother, Sardaraan kept the family together. She did this with an uncompromising strictness that regimented her children into becoming subservient adults.
Weary of her husband’s frequent disappearing act, Sardaraan got all her children married at the earliest age possible. Alishba got married at fifteen and both her sisters at fourteen.
Alishba’s husband Khursheed was a daily wage worker, belonging to a financially stable family. His elder brothers all lived affluently which gave much hope for Khursheed’s future. But as luck would have it, he turned out to be an alcoholic and a gambler. He lost more money than he made and as a result was not one of the most amicable husbands. Even though he never abused Alishba physically; he did have serious trust issues. She was not allowed to leave her house, or even visit her parents without his consent. Ironically, Alishba has no complaints from that era. In the first eight years of marriage, she was busy producing her six children. She would spend her days cooking, cleaning and taking care of her growing number of off springs. She even accepted the postnatal death of her second child as sheer fate, no questions asked.
Disillusioned by Khursheed, Sardaraan tried to convince Alishba to divorce him and leave his kids for him to take care of. To her, the children were as reprehensible as their father and she did not mince her words about it. The first paradox of Alishba’s life was that her mother, who had taught her to take responsibility, was now asking her to give it up. But Alishba could never imagine deserting her children, which incensed her mother to no end.
As the number of children grew, so did the financial burden of the household. So much so that Khursheed allowed his sister to adopt his daughter Mehwish. Khursheed’s sister was affluent, her family loved the two-year-old, making it a win-win situation.
In the tenth year of her marriage, Khursheed’s drinking habit caught up with him and he passed away due to overdose. Alishba had been an obedient wife and a devoted mother. She did not know any better. When her husband died she was left homeless with four children. After his funeral, his sister proposed to adopt her second daughter Sehrish who was at the time four years old, and Alishba saw no option but to allow her.
In Islam women are suggested to observe ‘iddat’, which requires them not to leave their house for four months and ten days after their husband passes away. It is considered a religious duty as well as a right. In the absence of their own home, women usually move in with their in-laws. Thus as per cultural norm, Alishba moved in with Khursheed’s eldest brother along with her two sons and a six-month-old daughter. Alishba vigilantly stayed in-doors and sent her 6-year-old son Danish to work for petty money, even as their responsibility now lay on her wealthy brother-in-law.
Alishba was the youngest in her in-laws and everyone treated her with affection; everyone except her sister-in-law who was not happy being her host. She taunted and teased Alishba at every step of the way. It had been only a month since they had moved in when one day she accused Alishba of trying to woo her husband. Though a false accusation, it was extremely hurtful for Alishba who considered him her guardian.
Alishba, the twenty-five-year-old, who had never stepped out of her house on her own, had never made a decision in her life; packed her bags and moved out the very next morning. She made her way to the bus station and boarded the bus to Faisalabad. She was headed to her parents’ house, unaware of their exact address. After reaching Faisalabad she took nearly the entire day searching street after street with a sympathetic buggy driver to reach their house.
As she entered her childhood home, she hugged her mother and cried. She cried because she was grateful to have found the house, relieved that she was with her parents and hurt because her in-laws had mistreated her at the worst time of her life. Little did she know that her crying was premature! It was within days that Sardaraan accused Alishba of bringing the dead weight of the gambler’s children to her house. Not willing to carry the financial burden of the three children Sardaraan would spend the better part of the day passing snide remarks. She abused Alishba and her children so much so that Alishba disregarded the ritual of Iddat and got a job. She would earn for her children herself. But that was not enough to soothe her mother; she refused to take care of the six-month-old Sehrish while Alishba was at work. Every day on her return from work Alishba’s parents hounded her with accusations of misconduct and reprimanded her children for ills not done. She soon realised that her parents’ house was not the haven she had assumed it would be…
On the tenth day of her arrival at her parents’ house Alishba shifted to a distant uncle’s house. He was God fearing enough to donate a few house-hold items and crockery to his widowed niece. Alishba found herself a room on rent and moved out of her uncle’s house within four days. The girl who previously was not allowed to buy groceries on her own had learnt valuable lessons within forty days of her husband’s death and hence refused to test anymore relations.