My Feudal Lord

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ASIAN TIMES

Britain leading Asian Newspaper – a campaigning weekly

A woman’s story that shook Pakistan

by G D Govender

” A young Plant is Breaking Through the Hard Crust of The Earth”

IT HAS some way to go before it shakes the rest of Asia, as Bantam, the publishers of ‘Tehmina Durrani’s brave and searing exposure of husbandly near·homicide against her person, exaggeratedly claim. However. Durrani`s sad, moving and powerful indictment of her husbands coarse, scrofulous and thuggish maltreatment of her, titled My Fuedal Lord, has deeply upset the male, sexist dominated societies of Pakistan. lndia and Bangladesh, where regardless of religious affiliation and even some mild concessions to the equality of the sexes, the primitive, Nietzchschean. “Man whip in hand, is Boss” ethos stubbornly persists.

Durrani`s book My Feudal Lord, is an account of her terrifying ordeal at the hands of a jealous, bullying and brutal husband. So horrendous was the beating and mental torture that one wonders not only how she survived it all, but was not provoked, as happened to many law-abiding and blameless women in this country into violent retaliation.

The courageous feminist movement, one of the paradoxes of a society in which not only Benazir Bhutto, but thousands of women are in influential positions, has fought tenaciously against the legal, institutional and domestic maltreatment and abuse of women from the lower social orders.

There has so far, however, been an unspoken rule that women never went public about their maltreatment on the face-saving excuse that this would embarrass the religious and the political establishment. This is not just simply the state of sexist i play in Pakistan. But in the whole of the subcontinent.

Even in the relatively advanced multi-cultural community in this country, many Asian women victims of violence, abuse and immolation, have been forced on pain of deportation, further abuse, or outright isolation and rejection by their families and societies, into a sullen and resentful silence. The high rates of Asian women suicides, mainly by self-immolation. in this country are the direct result of the barbaric conspiracy to “protect the good name of the community. “

Despite the ostracism, the defamation and the Jibes, and danger to her life she now faces, Tehmina Durrani, a woman “with brains and beauty” from a wealthy high society background in Pakistan, has gone into print with her own painful and humiliating experiences, which are the Iot of millions of women from both the “high born “ and the “Iow born” in the indian sub·continent. While lndia’s constitution guarantees equality between the sexes, and middIe·class professional women are well represented in the Establishment, the powerful feminist movement in the country continues to draw attention to the mistreatment of less articulate women, especially from the working class, India, Iike Pakistan and Bangladesh continues to turn a blind eye to the degrading phenomenon of bonded women .

Bangladesh, despite demands from extreme religious movements for women to “stay at home, look after the children, cook the food and obey their husbands”, hundreds of women from the middle classes enjoy equality of opportunity, with fierce resistance by the feminist movement to what one of their spokespersons called ‘“sexist totalitarianism.”

The fall of Bhutto, the dictatorship of General Zia. and, for Khar. Exile in a tiny flat in London. Gone were the grand houses, the scores of servants, the giddy round of parties.

Durrani’s account of her descent into a married hell makes painful reading; beating sessions were followed by grovelling promises of reform. She was too afraid to leave: Khar was so plausible that even her parents urged patience (“you leave your husband in your coffin”) and she was petrified of losing her four children – Pakistan‘s Islamic law gives custody to the father. Eventually, her English lawyers filed for divorce, but Khar abducted the

children and took them to Pakistan where he was then charged with treason and imprisoned.

Durrani went back to Pakistan and visited him in prison, and was once again hoodwinked by his show of remorse and political idealism: “l became a political animal.” she says. “He was my leader.” She campaigned for his release and after two years Khar was freed. ‘l owe you everything,” he told her promising to be a model husband. lt did not last long. and finally she left him for good. Several years later when Mustafa had acquired a new family, Durrani at last recovered her children -— a happy ending of sorts to an extraordinary story.

ln Britain, too, despite many set-backs, young, educated, articulate women in what is perhaps the most effective Asian feminist movement in the Diaspora, with some notable victories to its credit both against Asian male authoritarianism and institutional “racism and sexism is contemptuous of the line that “we must not wash our dirty linen in public.”

Against this background, in this countiy and the Indian subcontinent, Tehmina Durrani’s book is bound to spark off a fire debate on the widely prevalent male notion, that women should be in purdah o the more extreme view that they are “male chattel” with no legal rights and totally at the mercy of men, The latter view has been carried to murderous extremes in Afghanistan, where women have been killed simply for asserting the right to an education. Bigots believe that education is not only wasted on women but that it will in the long run, as indeed it is leading in some of the most fundamentalist Hindu and Muslim societies to feminist rebellion.

 Within These Walls

 When My Feudal Lord, Tehmina Durrani’s auto biography, was published in Pakistan in 1990, it caused a sensation. To translate Durrani’s local success de scandal into worldwide appeal, the publishers enlisted the ghost-writers William and Marilyn Hoffer, who wrote Midnight Express and Not Without My Daughter (both made into Hollywood movies, a destiny one also forsees for My Feudal Lord. And sensationalism, not to mention grammatical clangers, spoils this book which is as much a history of Pakistan over the past 25 years as a personal odyssey.

Durrani, who was born into a patrician family in Lahore and went to school with Benazir Bhutto, grew into a beauty and was destined to marry a prosperous Oxbridge educated young man. Instead at 21, she met Mustafa Khar, “the Lion of Punjab”, a charismatic politican 22 years her senior who was a protege of Bhutto. He was the chief minister for Punjab where he owned vast estates and ruled as a fuedal lord. Durrani became his sixth wife and for a while they lived happily.

Durrani, member of the priviliged elite, went to the same school as Benazir Bhutto.

Tehmina made four attempts to leave her hushand. She eventually succeeded in divorcing him, but at a terrible cost. She lost custody of her children, financial support, and was rejected by her parents. Tehmina decided to publish a book about her experiences, but no publisher would touch so revolutionary a book. Eventually, she published the book herself creating an overnight sensation. She is the first Pakistani woman to challenge the mighty bastion of establishment sexist in her country. She is now as famous as Benazir Bhutto herself with many thousands of women from all classes, identifying with her cause, and demanding an open and just society and an end to the oppression of their sex. The book, which is expected to have a similar impact in India and Bangladesh, will be reviewed more fully in next weeks Asian Times.

MY FEUDAL LORD by Tehmina Durrani is published by BANTAM PRESS at £ l5.99.

‘A Queen in Exile…’

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Another famous writer I met and was enchanted by was
none other than the author of the sensational book
My Feudal Lord.

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A Queen in Exile…

‘She arrived like a queen in exile— luminous, beautiful and completely unadorned. She didn’t require jewelry or fine clothes. Her presence and beauty was sufficient. When we entered the main party zone together, a hush fell over the gathering as guests stopped talking or drinking to stare. I’m sure she was accustomed to this reaction. She pretended not to notice as she took my hand and we started to walk through the crowd. 

The interesting thing was that nobody made eye contact with Tehmina…The silence was another thing. Tehmina obviously knew her way around this monstrous house. She summoned a waiter, ordered refreshments and asked for them to be sent to one of the numbered suites. ‘We can talk in peace there,’ she smiled. I was bewitched. Her voice was smoky and musical—a little like Meena Kumari’s. Her large lustrous eyes were carelessly kohl-lined. She wore a crumpled white kurta pajama with a white dupatta thrown over her shoulder like an afterthought. Silver…I remember flashes of dull, antique silver; could have been bracelets, or earrings. I took to her instantly. And she to me (I think, I hope). I’d been told she had a band of devotees who hang around her every evening and generally protect her from the real world. Tehmina’s saloon. How appropriate. The Collette of Lahore. The Anais Nin of the subcontinent.

Others had sneered ‘She can’t write, she’s no intellectual’. Her book was written by someone else. What did it matter? The voice was unmistakably her’s. That was easy enough to tell after the first few minutes. The story was her’s. The experience was her’s. The nightmares too. And that was all that counted—at least for me.

She knew the host. The wife was her friend and admirer. But she avoided parties like this one. I could see why. We talked all too briefly. It was nearly 3 am. Dilip and I had a flight to catch the next day and yet, even that abbreviated encounter was enough. I felt enormous warmth for this fragile figure curled up on a settee and talking in a soft melodious tone. Here was a woman who could so easily have projected herself as a tragedy queen, a martyr. Instead, she was putting her life together rather bravely, perhaps defiantly. Even the most refined educated and the wealthy families continue to function in a manner so feudalistic, it makes one squirm; on the surface everything appears sophisticated and smooth—the gorgeous trophy wives, the urbane husbands in Armani suits, the luxurious living. But beneath the surface, everything is as sour as the special ‘achchar’ (pickle) served with ‘biryani’ (rice). It was all rather too decadent and depressing. Yet, Tehmina had managed to bloom in that murky, incestuous environment. And raise a family. I don’t really care who writes her books. I read My Feudal Lord, practically in one go. An autographed copy had been delivered to our host’s home minutes before we were to leave for the airport. I read the affectionate message inscribed in it and knew it was meant.’

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When Dr. Ghazali, a great
Islamic Scholar, recognized
my first commitment was to
God, I became stronger

Tehmina Durrani

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I have received thousands of letters from people across the world…
grandfathers to teenagers – young girls and old ladies – prisoners, soldiers in Bosnia and hundreds from our own armed forces. Thank you to all of them for caring

Tehmina Durrani

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As the response to my ‘life’ grew and was so
full of caring and concern…I found that my
own love for the people was overwhelming. I
loved the oppressed, the subservient and the
weak, enough to die for them

Tehmina Durrani

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