*This is dedicated to all the women and the mothers in Pakistan whose strength, patience and efforts go unacknowledged and yet they refuse to cease. You inspire me, and you make us all.
I watch 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 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.
But I wonder if there are more of their kind.
I wonder if I was in their position, would I have survived?
As I am forced to venture further into adulthood, I find myself absolutely fearful not of what the future holds for me, but what this society holds for me.
There is so much that is wrong in it. So much to battle against, so much to resign 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. As dramatic as this sounds, I fear for my survival in it because I don’t think I’ll be able to put up with what it throws a girl’s way.
Then there are times in my life during which I am struck and seized by a moment of sheer marvel and awe at my mother.
This is a woman who seems ordinary. She has a life and story shared by perhaps millions 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 me, my brother and my father. 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.
And yet, it is almost as if we’ve usurped her life from her as a right of ours.
She’s the most beautiful woman I know. She’s the woman with the most melodious voice, that I often wake up to, hearing it hum along or rendering a rendition of a classic Indian song.
She’s the woman whose every word, expression, gesture and effort is a lesson in compassion, thoughtfulness and selflessness.
She’s the brightest woman I know. The strongest woman I know. A shelter in storms, a shade to rest against amid scathing heat, a breeze amid the stillness and silences of the night.
She amazes me, and yet she frightens 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, I would never be able to muster even in a thousand years.
She’s been put through a lot, she has endured a lot.
She’s a warrior.
I know there have been times that if I had 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 yet I wonder how much I have still taken from her; her health, her youth, her time, her individuality.
She’s fought for me in ways I know and know not. She’s suffered and been hurt because of me, in ways I know and know not. After all, I am a hot-tempered child to have (all of them say it is “meray naam ka asr”) and often an ungrateful one too.
And yet she’s lifted and moved mountains for me.
I love looking back on the Sultanas, and I wonder if there are more of their kind. Yet I need not look far in books, in dramas, to history, to different times and spaces.
Because at home, with the cracks on her feet, the sweat on her brow; with her strength, her patience, her sacrifices, and her beauty, my mother stands. Holding our worlds by her very existence.
My mother stands. Not as a sultana.
But as a sultanate on her own,
To which I bow.