I love watching Turkish dramas, especially the one on the Sultanate of Women. You know, the ones on Hurrem and Kosem Sultan.
It’s a subject I’ve long been fascinated by. It is fascinating, how these slave girls rose to become sultanas that more or less ruled the Ottoman Empire. Most of it is fiction in the show, but if you’ve read actual history, it gives faces to the names; it gives a life to history.
Life certainly wasn’t easy in the harem, there was struggle, there was conflict, there was suffering, there was love, there was loss, there was death.
I’ve read about these sultanas, their lives, their reigns and I have always been left enchanted by their intelligence, their strength, their beauty, their courage, their power, their triumph against adversity and difficulty; their fight against fate.
I read about these women in history and it gives rise to a strange feeling: a pride that the womanhood I possess has been shared by such glorious women; and a realization that inside every woman, there is a capacity for the things they did.
These women seem worlds removed from our time.
As I grow to embrace adulthood more closely, I find myself perpetually fearful both of what the future may hold for me and what this society definitely holds for me.
There is so much to battle against, so much to resign myself to.
I don’t think I have the patience, the tact, the strength in me to deal with the pressures and expectations of our culture and society. I fear because I don’t think I’ll be able to put up with or bear what it throws a girl’s way.
Then there are times in my life, more often that not, during which I am struck and seized by a moment of sheer marvel and awe at my own mother.
This is a woman who seems ordinary, but she’s also extraordinary and yet her life and story are shared by perhaps millions of mothers across Pakistan.
She’s a homemaker.
She was married fairly young, and she has devoted her entire life to her family, the family she was married into, and the family she raised of her own. She has two grown kids now, a few strands of gray in her hair, and yet even today, from the minute she wakes up to the minute she shuts her eye at night, her day revolves around all three of us. Us, our needs, our demands, our joy, our utmost dependence on her from the smallest thing to the biggest pareshani. We frustrate her, bother her, test her. We are not easy people. Her labor is constant, unceasing, tremendous.
It is almost as if we’ve usurped her life from her as a right of ours.
Ammi is the most beautiful woman I know. She’s the woman with the most melodious voice, to which I have woken up to on countless mornings; blended into the rhythms and melodies of a classic Indian song. Ammi is the woman whose every word, expression, gesture and effort is a lesson in compassion, thoughtfulness and selflessness. She moves mountains, she makes the sun rise and fall.
She’s the brightest woman I know, her intelligence and creativity knows no bounds.
She’s a shelter in storms, a shade to rest against amid scathing heat, a breeze amid the stillness and silences of the night.
She sustains three lives, all on her own. And this is her life.
She astounds me because God knows, the sort of strength, patience, the ability to sacrifice, the ability to endure, to overcome, to love, and to forgive, that she has– which I would never be able to muster even in a thousand years. There have been times that had I been in her place, I would’ve given up, let go or collapsed. I falter at the thought of it. I am nothing like her, not even a mere fragment of her self. And I wonder about the plunders made from the fullness of her life. I wonder about the person she was before but isn’t anymore. What were her dreams? What was she like? What did she stifle or what was stifled of hers to make space for other lives? What of her joy did she surrender to make our joy possible?
And how would she have been in another life?
I will never know.
I keep looking back on the Sultanas, I continue to be fascinated by them, to admire them and to wonder about their strength, courage, brilliance, and beauty. But I need not look far in books, in dramas, to history, to different spaces and times.
Because here at home I have my mother.
Not a sultana, but a sultanate on her own.