The emancipated woman

(The following is an excerpt from a longer work.)

Chapter 17

Ayisha decided it was time to go to Swat and spend time on a longer assignment. She wanted to study the old wood carvings, and the Swatee houses built below ground level were of particular interest to her. She also wanted to examine swing bridges made of rope and bamboo. Ayisha was trying, too, to do a study of heat   conservation and solar energy in poor ares. The Pathan guide she hired was the one recommended by Abdul. She reached Islamabad in the early afternoon and Abdul, after some refreshments, and tea escorted her to his apartment.

The Guide was a smart looking young man, lithe but slightly balding. He wore European clothes, very tight jeans, a sweater and an anorak. Dressing in Western clothes inspired confidence in his European clients. This was the policy of the Institute as the guide was also employed as a part time researcher. He came over as condescending to Ayisha as he spoke, “Don’t think you have done any research in traditional areas. I suggest you go and change into Shalwar Kameez and wear a shawl.  You need to cover your hair and your bosom.” “I know I have been here long enough” she answered.  “I have taken German, Finnish, Swiss and American women to remote areas to do their research, and I have never been turned away!” He swaggered as he looked in her direction and smoothed his hair.

He took Ayisha with her suitcase up the stairs in a hotel in Abbotabad. She was taken aback to see a double bed in the room. She turned round and asked him, “I had especially asked for a single room, surely this is not my room?”

“They are full to capacity, and this is the only room left” he answered with a confident air. Ayisha went downstairs to the Reception and asked, “Don’t you have any single rooms left?”

“We do”, replied the young man as he handed her the key with a sly grin.

One of her Guide’s perks was to sleep with the women he accompanied, and he assumed that Ayisha would grant him sexual favours along with his fees!

Because of his extreme chauvinistic airs and the initials of his name Mian Abdul Nissar Khan, she mentally named him ‘Man’. They went to the dining room and had an excellent meal of Palak Paneer, Daal and Naan as he too chose to eat a vegetarian meal! I warmed to him. His talk over the meal was full of anecdotes of Pathan hospitality, and how his income helped his brothers in Peshawar who were poor.  He paid fees for his two nieces and worked overtime, and whenever the opportunity arose went to visit his extended family and believed wholeheartedly in women’s education.  This talk had made her feel more favourably inclined towards him.  They took leave and went into their rooms.

Ayisha had barely undressed and got into bed when ‘Man’ came into her room without knocking.   He sat on her bed without asking and enquired, “Have you any wine or whisky on you.  I am very broad minded and wouldn’t mind sharing it with you”.

“Sorry, I don’t drink”.

He lingered and wanted to know, “What are you reading?”

“Wilhelm Reich.”
“Is he a novelist?”

“No, he is a philosopher and a thinker.”

“What’s the book about?”

“He writes about political matters well, and in this book, he provides an explanation regarding the rise of Hitler, and why the masses chose Nazi ideology instead of socialism.   There are parallels regarding Pakistan and why it is not a democracy.”

‘Man’ pulled a face and was not at all impressed.

”A woman of your age and beauty should be reading poetry and romances.  I have a book of love poems and I can read some to you”. She was aware of her attractiveness to men and had deliberately decided to dress plainly and look ordinary.  She had faced enough sibling rivalry in her adolescence too, when her sisters were envious of her complexion, her looks and fine features. She had learnt to play down her beauty. This time too, Ayisha ignored ‘man’s compliments and felt he was trying to flatter her.

“I am too tired and would like to go to sleep” she said.

Man was still lingering and reluctant to get up from her bed.  He started to talk to her about Swat and the beauty of the area, “Your heart would sing when you get there, and you would forget about this ‘Reich’ and when I read you some Firdous, Ghalib and Jalib, you would forget about boring writers.  You would be in heaven.”

She knew it would be difficult to get rid of him unless she was firm.  She got out of bed and held the door open, and he had to leave!

The next day ‘Man’ had his revenge.  He made her travel in overcrowded buses where he insisted that she sat next to the window, and he next to Ayisha in order to protect her. But instead, he sat so close to her with his body pressed leaving her little room to breathe. At each jolt, he even pressed closer, squeezing her, and pressing her thighs and many times touched her and felt her body inapporiately. He ensured that he felt her body at every opportunity and this groping, she wa sure gave him a cheap thrill, a sense of power and sadistic pleasure.

But Ayisha was undaunted and in her forthright way she tried to make him understand the level at which she wished to relate to him. “You are my Guide and I am paying you well, and appreciate your help. This I would mention in my report and no doubt, you would get more custom”, she smiled and added.  He thanked her and asked for a written testimonial as well!

On the way to Mardan on a crowded bus, a man was sick on Ayisha, and she felt dirty and smelt.  When they reached Mardan, ‘Man’ took her to a hotel whose proprietor was, no doubt, Man’s friend. He charged double for everything. The room had no hot water, the taps dripped and the blankets were covered in human muck, urine soaked and semen smeared. People came here only for one purpose.

Later, ‘Man’ pointed out to her a German woman, ‘Man’ called her a Memsahib for her blonde looks. She was purposefully going into her room during the morning with her young, handsome guide and firmly locking the door behind her.

“Don’t you think you are missing something?” asked ‘Man’ pointing in their direction.

“No,” she answered, “All I want from you is to show me around all the subterranean houses.” Even then ‘Man’ leaned towards her, put his hands on her shoulders and said, “You Spoil Sport”, and laughed!

Ayisha tried to find something to eat and called at many roadside cafes, but the only food that ‘Man’ found her was some bread and strong-smelling goat’s milk for which she was, nevertheless, grateful for.

The 10 days that Ayisha spent in the company of ‘Man’ convinced her that there was no end to hypocrisy in this land.  He went against all his religious tenets and asked her to give him alcohol and have sex with him. She held out and even then, Man was reluctant to give up trying. At every opportunity he told her how she was wasting her youth, her beauty, her lovely eyes, her full lips, and her glossy curly hair – all going to waste!

“In these lovely hills, and singing streams you should be in my arms, and I making love to you”, he said.

At the slightest excuse his talk would turn towards sexual matters. Thet were travelling in a crowded bus and it abruptly stopped by a river.  Ayisha saw all the men get out, she thought to relieve themselves. To her surprise, the men waded into the river, undid their shalwars and dipped their genitals in water! “What are these men doing?” she asked. “Don’t you know? They are doing one of the Islamic cleansing rituals ‘Buzoo’”.

‘Man’ was in his element to explain to her the Islamic significance of it. “You know our religion emphasises cleanliness, and the men are cleansing themselves before prayers”, he added with some relish.

“I have never seen so many of them doing it together so publicly”!

‘Man’ was not happy to let the matter rest there. The men had returned, and the bus had started again. He kept on repeating about cleanliness and ritualistic washing of the male genitals. He must have asked me ten times, “Have you heard this saying, as clean as a Mullah’s ‘lunn’. Mullahs carry their own ‘lotas’, everywhere to show people that they are practicing the religion so their ‘lunns’ are extra clean”, he chuckled.



By Kanta Walker