“I had fallen into the classic trap of the Pakistani woman. The goal is marriage and, once achieved, the future is a life of total subordination. I had no power, no rights, no will of my own.” – Tehmina Durrani
The above passage, extracted from nearly one-third of the book, sums up the essence of this autobiography. Born into one of Pakistan’s most influential families, Tehmina Durrani was raised in the privileged milieu of Lahore high class society. Her marriage to Ghulam Mustafa Khar, one of Pakistan’s most eminent political figures, soon turned into a nightmare. Violently possessive and patholigically jealous, Khar succeeded in cutting her off from the outside world. For fourteen years, Tehmina suffered alone, in silence. When she decided to rebel, the price she paid was extremely high …
Tehmina’s story is the classic tale of women in Muslim society, who are driven into years of slavery and trauma in their husband’s house, with their lives manipulated by the repeated misinterpretation of the teachings of the Prophet. Her daughters suffer, and the maids in her house lead equally traumatized and abused lives. Over the years, Tehmina rebels sometimes but is constantly drawn into a web of intrigue and self-denial.
More than a bruised body, the tattered soul hurts and urges this woman of high upbringing to finally break the thin chords of family and society’s pressure to gain freedom from her vengeful husband, even after giving him many opportunities for reform, and also becoming his prime political aide and spokes person. But at the end of it all, she earns her independence by losing custody of her children, living on the mercy of her family and friends, just because she is neither independent nor socially allowed to make herself independent with her own rights.
The pathos is intriguing – how this woman goes back again and again to a life of misery and violence, with a typical feminine hope that her husband will change for the better. The cycle of torture, forgiveness and repentance is never-ending – until Tehmina throws all care to the wind and decides to stand up for her dignity and rights as a woman, and most importantly as a human being.
Years of nomadic existence at the whims and fancies of a psychopath, who is her husband by law, take a toll on her mental and emotional peace and health. Her children face equally antagonistic behavior and troubling episodes in their life. Its only the courage of this woman, gathered over fourteen long years of oppression, that allow her to finally break the shackles of marital discord and slavery – a fate that so many oppressed women in feudal society still envy.
Durrani’s book, My Feudal Lord, has been criticized for its writing style, and yet the book is absolutely engaging and provides a great insight into the politics of Pakistan – from the reign of Bhutto, to the military regime of General Zia and then to the rise of Benazir Bhutto. And amidst this great political drama of the early stages of Pakistani history, is the heart-rending tale of Tehmina Durrani. It is the efforts of this brave woman that this tale has been shared globally, providing first-hand glimpses of the vulnerable position of women caught in the complex world of feudal society.
After her divorce, Durrani wrote My Feudal Lord in 1991, detailing her marriage with Khar. The book became a bestseller worldwide, but stirred controversy in Pakistan for its detailed description of abuse inflicted on her by a powerful political figure. Further, its revelation of the misuse of Islam to conceal the exploitation of females also garnered both negative and positive publicity. A debate whether or not parts of the book are exaggerated or completely untrue continues to persist.
I highly recommend Tehmina Durrani’s book, not for its literary value, but as a great political and social documentary on the complex web of the life and times in Muslim society.
Durrani has also written the novel “Blasphemy” which was another success. Durrani has won many worldwide awards for her book “My Feudal Lord” and is considered an idol by many women in Pakistan. She is currently married to Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif, former Chief Minister of Punjab, and brother of Nawaz Sharif, former Prime Minister of Pakistan.