This story is very much inspired by a recent article I read from The New York Times, the link can be accessed here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/21/world/asia/21gender.html?_r=1
Before I was born, it was decided that I would be raised as a boy. My birth name was Niazmina, but my father called me Nang for he truly believed that I was the only one who would bring honour to our house; a house that bore only daughters and no sons.
I was the youngest of four daughters. My mother was my father’s third wife. His first wife passed away during childbirth. She had given birth to a baby boy before she took her last breath. The baby, however, was born prematurely and died a few hours later. My father was devastated, not because his wife had just died, but because he had lost a son. I know this because he always talked about it. There would be times when he would get lost in his reverie and start talking as if we weren’t even there.
“He was so tiny, so sweet. I wish he was alive. He would be 18 years old right now,” my father would reminisce, lying on the straw-made cot and rubbing his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. He’d then sigh deeply, get up, and continue about his daily routine. To make matters worse, the people in my village didn’t make things easier for they loved to gossip. They said that my father was unlucky; that he was never meant to have a son. Even after my father remarried, his luck didn’t change for his second wife was only able to provide him with three daughters.
“You should remarry, bachay*,” grandmother would say to my father. “It is very important that you have a son. Otherwise, who will carry on our family name?”
My father secretly married my mother in the winter of ’94. She was 15 years younger than him, and had only just completed her Fsc. She wanted to go to college and become a doctor, but her father, my grandfather, decided to hand her over to my father in marriage, as he was a Khan and hailed from a wealthy family.
“But he has a wife!” my mother wailed, on the day before her wedding. “Why should I marry someone who is already married?”
“He is rich, loorey*. You will live a happy life. Don’t you want to live a happy life?”
My mother – being the outspoken and rebellious daughter that she was – then decided to stay quiet, for she heard the sound of anger and desperation in my grandfather’s voice.
My mother’s family was very poor. She had six sisters and two brothers. She was the third youngest of her siblings. Her mother passed away when she was only nine years old. Grandfather never remarried and took it upon himself to raise all nine children. Hence, my mother deeply respected my grandfather. Till this day, she has never defied him.
My grandfather worked for my father on his plantation. And it wasn’t long until my mother had caught my father’s eye…and his heart.
“It was love at first sight for your father, but not for me; I just thought your father was too old and ugly,” my mother once recalled, laughing, when I’d asked her how she’d met my father. “He had come to our house to meet baba and I did not know that we had melmana* over. So I just entered the house wearing my chador* and my face uncovered, only to quickly cover it as soon as I saw your father. Your father had only seen a slight glimpse of me and already he was smitten. Next day he came again to meet baba and asked for my hand in marriage. It all happened so fast, and within a week I was your father’s new bride.”
My mother was very beautiful. She had long, silky reddish gold hair and hazel eyes, framed by very thick long lashes. However, despite her beauty, the village often talked negatively about her, and the fact that a wealthy man like my father decided to take on her as his wife.
His second wife, Brekhna, on the other hand, despised my mother and found every opportunity to make her life a living hell. Since they all lived in the same house, on days when father was away, Brekhna would make my mother cook, clean, and do all the household chores. Once she even hit my mother, who didn’t take too well to violence, and instead of cowering, my mother hit her back. In response, Brekhna threw hot boiling water at my mother, which burned her soft flesh from the neck down. When my father came home later that night and saw the scars, he asked her what had happened.
“It was an accident,” my mother lied, her gaze lowered. “I was making a cup of chai*, and I slipped causing the water to spill on me.”
“Well you should have been more careful, bibi*! From now on, only Brekhna will cook and clean, you are still a bride and will soon be the mother of my potential son!” he cried, deep worry lines creasing his forehead. “You really should be more careful,” he repeated, more to himself than to my mother, turning on his heels to go to his room and slamming the door shut behind him.
As the years went by, and after giving birth to three daughters, it was finally decided that if my mother did not have a son the fourth time around, that daughter would be raised as a boy. And that boy would be me.
My life changed the day I turned six. Being raised as a girl for five years of my life, I did not know what to expect. I was used to wearing frocks and having my hair tied in tight ponytails, followed by a scarf that covered my whole head except my tiny face.
I was lying on my stomach on the living room floor, playing with Gulmina, Gulalai, and Palwasha, my three older sisters, when my father suddenly rushed into the room and yanked me off of the floor.
“Niazmina, get up and quickly get ready, we don’t have much time,” the excitement in my father’s voice overwhelmed me a little; I’d never seen my father this excited or happy before. And being the obedient child that I was, I quickly did what I was told, even though I really wanted to continue playing with my sisters.
“Where are we going, baba?” I asked, as my father quickly shoved the scarf over my head and led me out the door. My father just smiled at me and told me not to worry too much. From today onwards my life was going to change. I did not know what he meant by that, but I simply smiled back, not even having the slightest clue what my destiny awaited.
*bachay – child
*loorey – daughter
*melmana – guests
*chador – is a white cotton cloth that covers a woman from head to toe.
*chai – tea
*bibi – lady/woman
© October 2010