This is a contemporary fictional account of a woman based in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who lost her friends to ‘honour’ killing.
Amongst other good and bad habits, I love this one. I worship this habit. You know why? It has fathomed the door of knowing, learning, understanding and reacting for me. My mother used to say that it is a habit of accursed and damned people. She would say, ‘zaleela she, da adaat de prexda’ (Leave this habit, may God disgrace you) but I’d shrug off every time.
Keeping in mind that I’ve been given birth on a sorry planet. They said, my name is De-de. I always loved playing outdoor games with neighbouring kids. I was only permitted to play with Sheen Khalai and Nadane – my two friends and only the two games were ‘Hopscotch’ and ‘Baraf Paani‘.
I learnt the names of many games that my brothers would play- with all the freedom in this world: kancha (marbles), lagori/pithu, Chor-Siphai, Lattoo, Gilli-Danda, Kabbadi, Langri Pala, Kona Kona, Gamoona, obstacle race, cricket, football, hockey, chess, flying disc, dot and box, etc. I came to know about these games by eavesdropping upon the men in my family.
As the journey of life moved forward, my affection and attachment with Sheen Khalai and Nadane increased. Thinking about separation from them would shudder a horror in my mind.
By the time I was 10 years old, I had complete knowledge of house chores. I would press the clothes of an 11-member family, sweep the veranda, wash the dishes, and fetch everything that I was asked to fetch.
Every day of my life came with an unsavoury revelation. One day grandfather said to my father that his death wish was to marry me to Azay Khoon. Azay Khoon was 28 years old and I, 10. Obediently following his father’s wish, my father replied that after puberty I will be married accordingly.
How did I find out? Eavesdropping. This was the same day that I realized the helplessness of my existence and my two friends and I made a promise of never parting.
My dearest friend, Sheen Khalai was born in 2004, in our shanty village called Shaam Plain Garyom. Her house was partly demolished due to the on-going war on their land. When Sheen was three, she inquired her mother about her name. She didn’t like Sheen Khalai because of the absence of green moles on her body. Her mother replied exasperatedly that as she will never be sent to school, so any name would do. Sheen Khalai cried and cried till she could leave the crib.
Nadane was born in the same village in 2006. She, too, dared to ask her mother about her name, to which the mother said that it means unclever and naive.
We grew up midst warmongering: we lived through bomb blasts, shelling and homelessness. We have been disgraced by the state but some of us and the villagers keep holding on, keep surviving.
Once my friends and I were trying to learn the dot-box game while my younger brother, Dabu found us and we were punished by whipping because it was a game only for the boys.
Albeit he was younger but he was ‘male’, the gender that has been favoured by the divine and holy, having all the privileges of existence. After that day Sheen, Nadane and I never tried to look back at that game. Yes, my people have learnt how to speak up against oppression but are still struggling in shards of the inglorious man-made laws. Unsettled in my own trauma, I think I still shed some tears.
(After a brief hiatus, De-de is disturbed by brother, Dabu bringing horrible news).
Dabu said, “De-de! Sheen Khalai and Nadane were killed last night by their first cousin.”
Completely baffled, I asked, “Are you teasing me, or do you really mean it?”
“No, no, you can ask anyone. They both were killed because of that last year’s video in which you too are present. They were rende (harlots),” my brother replied with a smirk on his face.
“Why rende,” I asked.
“Any girls who use mobile phones or makes videos are called rende.“
I was uncertain of what to say and how to say it. Believe you me; I had forgotten how to breathe. My heart forgot to pump blood to the sinews. I became half-dead. I had been accustomed to the violence of everyday war, but this was something else.
We have been through skirmishes like Zarb-e-Azb, Radd-ul-Fasaad and War on Terror. We have lost everything as far as human imagination can fathom. But I only succumb to this overwhelmingly bitter truth that patriarchy is still the biggest war we’re in.
These man-made customs like ‘honour-killing’ are the only filth that can be controlled without the indulgence of the state, but our men don’t care. I have lost my two fidus achates in the name of honour killing and the same fate looms over my head too – I live and breathe and eat and sleep in fear. I will be slaughtered like many others lest this earth’s heart opens up and takes us all in its arms.
I question the patriarchs of this village – will justice be done to me and my friends’ souls? Will our so-called Maliks or barons summon a jirga to consider us mere human beings too?
Sheen and Nadane are buried in unnamed graves, truly unknowing of what their crime was and the same would be mine. A society where man’s lies are considered to be the sole truth and the only acceptable lie is a woman’s existence, a place where our future is defined by the man we marry, will always be killing the lot of us, for their own benefit and ego.
Let me look for my khwaaze (lovely) Sheen Khalai and Nadane’s graves. They call me every day. How do I know? Eavesdropping.
De-de left the stage. Curtains fell.