Liana telling the story in a nutshell

Love is the twin of a beautiful dream that survives birth to reality; but my love was a reality that survived arduous parturition only to remain a beautiful dream

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February 01, 2005

10. The End Relays To The Beginning/ Part Two

While avidly engaged in maintaining their commanding manly posture in the social, cultural and domestic arenas, our society’s stronger sex usually tended to submerge the feelings of the heart, and behaved with reserve rather than with open intimacy towards their other halves. Demonstrations of love and the public display of emotions were disagreeable to the older generations. Affection and tenderness were believed to soften the heart and weaken the whip hand, undermining thereby the social standing of men and imperilling their pre-eminence in the household as well as inviting scorn from their own gender for being less manly. Though conventionally married, my parents turned out, however, to be great lovers. Two lovebirds, whom I hardly ever saw fighting or even upset or angry at each other throughout a whole life together.

Mum was an adolescent of only sixteen when she was given in marriage. This was not unusual at the time. Marriage suitors, in fact, were never keen about females beyond early adolescence. Equally, unmarried girls beyond such age caused irritation. The ultimate goal of all parents was to have their daughters sheltered hastily within the walls of marriage, in a stifling society that confined women’s responsibility merely to homemaking. Marriage was viewed as the female’s inevitable fate in this male dominant society that rationed females education to primary schooling at the most, ensuring thus the sheer dependency of women and potentiating, above all, male superiority. Marriages were transactions rather than matters of feelings in the, then, all the more conservative society. Females were disallowed in any respect to stray from the path of custom and tradition. And they were conventionally predisposed for early marriages, which they entered, in the majority of cases, without the consent of their wills or desires and without comprehending the nature of the union. In the few cases where the females were asked their consent the mothers would usually be the envoys of such missions. It was quite unpleasant for the fathers to do this for the discomfiture it spawned for both, the daughter as well as the father. Girls in those days were usually too shy to register any protest or disapproval; equally, it was contrary to custom for them to reveal blatant enthusiasm for the prospect of marriage, for it would imply an unseemly keenness for what would ensue upon marriage, “sex”. Picking out a female for marriage was a mission usually accomplished by the elder women of the family of the suitor, either the mother or the grandmothers and aunties from both sides. It wasn’t unusual for a couple to be put under one roof without having even one prior glimpse of each other.

Mum was barely seventeen when she had me in her arms. Whereas dad, ten years her senior, got himself into line for marriage relatively late, although early marriages were the custom of the day, as dad was the only son, upon him devolved the obligation to perpetuate his family’s name. He assumed responsibility for his family at the age of eighteen when his dad passed away, and he got married only after satisfying traditions first, by ‘securing’ his two younger sisters in marriage.

Our Middle Eastern culture has an unabated proclivity for extended families. The propensity, particularly among Moslems, for families to have children and grandchildren living under one roof caters to the might and power of the families concerned and enhances social relations. Dad’s mother resided in the same house with my parents. Showing regard and respect for the elderly will always remain the core of our culture. Being the only son of the family heftily magnified dad’s moral obligation for furnishing the best of love and care for his widowed mother. Inversely, my grandmother served as a second mum for her daughter-in-law, teaching her all that she wanted to know about motherhood. Apart from breastfeeding, mum’s mother-in-law took full responsibility for caring for the newborn. ‘You were like my doll; I could hardly wait for you to wake up so that I could play with you’, mum recalled. I was simply a baby doll for a mum who was still in need of a mum herself. My brother Rani was born four years later; the culmination of a draining deliberation, particularly since the first-born was a female. Male births, one or many, would have been received with joviality, whereas faces creased in frowns were it otherwise. It would be deemed an unquestionable disaster if more than one female were born in a row. Mum recounted the endless pestering she underwent from relatives, not least the wagging tongues of friends, their stinging looks insinuating the hopelessness of her bearing a second child. Dad, his mindset ahead of his time, turned a deaf ear and refused to burden mum with a second child before she was truly ready, particularly after the death of her mother-in-law. Such a brave attitude was an utter departure from the past.

Our culture amply prized males. Repeated female births were so unpopular that, in certain cases, they struck at the foundation of the marriage. Whilst Christian husbands were totally subdued by a stringent overarching church that blocked divorce and the unheard of civil marriage, Moslem husbands enjoyed the prerogative of four wives at a time. They would seek out the son through repeated marriages, ignorantly ascribing the flaw only to their wives. My parents, however, never got infected with this odd propensity for valuing sons above daughters. Not only was I on a par with my two brothers, but ironically enough I received extra attention for being the only female. My parents’ love for their only daughter was incredible. I was cherished and looked after like a precious rose in the garden of their lives. And I grew up extremely romantic, with exquisitely brittle emotions and handy tears, and a heart innocently brimming over with rich and colourful dreams and racing hopes as big as the infinite sky, obstinately longing for a marriage founded on love in a culture that pushed its females to enter marriages established on the family’s honour, rather than love. My chronic concern that my relatively broad-minded parents would yield someday to our culture’s prescriptions, and coerce my uncompromising emotions into a conventional marriage, produced in me an inexorable determination to fight for my right to choose in marriage and not just be chosen. My Prince Charming I would perennially fancy snatching and carrying me off on top of his white horse, taking me to his sweet kingdom of love, inundating me with his utmost love and affection. Tough, wild, yet most tender and caring, and, also, loving and indulgent, like my parents. He would be a real man, with mesmerizing virility to charmingly convert the little innocent girl within into a real woman, thus turning my feminine susceptibilities into thrilling pleasure and enormous delight. He would be a lover, who would crown me on the throne of his heart, and a husband, who would grab and satisfy, with just one look into my eyes, all my introverted desires that were oppressed by my cruel culture, and not least rescue me from my bashful nature. He would be the one with whom I’d start a family, and to whom I would give generously and abundantly of the infinite supply of love I was well endowed with. We would have four wonderful children. Why four? Because I missed having a sister. The sister who would reciprocate my love and to whom I would entrust my little innocent secrets. A tender shoulder that would co- battle with me life’s harshness, a linchpin and confidante who would help me overcome my bashfulness. And I wanted my children to savour, even-handedly, brotherly and sisterly love, as well as wrestle with and endure life’s intricacies with the strength and power collectiveness endows.

The virtues of love and forgiveness deepened the precepts my parents imbued their children with, such that, it served to protect us from any association with cruelty or malice. ‘With love and forgiveness, you’ll always win your future encounters with life, and you’ll always win over your opponents’. Such were my parents’ life long verities; they spoke of encounters and opponents but never of battles or enemies.

As though love and forgiveness sufficed not, godliness and piety were also invited to further anchor my household’s moral and ethical pillars. For over a century, both my parents’ families vied earnestly in giving to the Church, bishops, archbishops and even a Patriarch. The scent of burning candles and their flickering lights on the walls of my parents’ house spread, at all times, a wonderful sense of faith and peace. Prayer and church attendance, as well as two days of fasting in each and every week, never attenuated, but remained the unflagging rituals that my parents instilled in their children.

Strange as it may seem, it turned out years later that my very loving parents, in their fervent exertions at shielding their children with these protective moral weapons, inadvertently missed or failed to communicate, perhaps because they lacked the knowledge themselves, how I was to win in my future encounters with love and religion.

Often I wondered if my parents had somehow recognized that the same weapon they trusted to safeguard their precious daughter would recoil perilously riving their hearts and slaughtering, too, my happiness and felicity for a whole lifetime. Would they’ve still crusaded for them with the same enthusiasm and avidity if they had known the wrenching end?

I suppose, “yes” would be the least far-fetched answer. After all, they only taught what they knew.

God, how I wish they hadn’t......

To Be Continued.....

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