In my final year of Master English I read a drama called ‘The Doll House’ by Henrik Ibsen. It was about a perfectly normal house wife who leaves her husband and kids to discover her true self.
At the still growing age of 21, I could not understand why an apparently ‘happy’ women would leave her abode and blood to instead look for happiness in herself. I took the paper and aced it, but I never ‘got’ what the drama was about, until now.
Five years later, when most of my friends made it to their ultimate dream of marriage and two kids, a husband and home, I realize that not a single one of them was ‘happy’. From morning till dusk they give, and the next day they give some more. Until, they have lost so many pieces of themselves, honoring the indefinable word ‘compromise’- that in the end there is nothing much left to give.
You know these women, they are around you; they are your sisters, mother, cousins, and probably even your wife. These bulging eyed, pale skinned, gapping mouthed creatures are formidable. A dying essence, which embraces its death smiling mistaking it for a decorated yellow thaal of mayon gifts.
Now, when I listen to the endless complains of my friends, I wonder if they know they do not live a life of their own. Some part belongs to the saas-susaar and husband, the other to children, a bit to parents, and whatever’s left to the remaining vultures that are not difficult to find.
In an attempt to fulfill social obligations and to make sure that their daughter’s do not bring them a bad name, from birth girls are taught to ‘endure’, bite their tongues if they have to but never ever ‘complain’ to a husband who is her ‘majazihe khuda’.
What Ibsen was trying to tell us in his celebrated drama in the late nineteenth century was that although women have duties to their families, they also have duties to themselves. This can be done by not necessarily leaving hearth. To know who you are, and to have a place for yourself in your own home and not treated as a plaything is the jist of the play.
The idea the Norwegian playwright put before his audience at the time was a growing concern for a deep thinker, a trend foreteller. It should not therefore come as a surprise that just a few decades later women in eastern countries started to have themselves recognized as a living entity and not a doll for play.
The young generation of present time in our part of the world is experiencing the dollhouse effect. Young ladies marry believing that ‘finally’ their life will be meaningful, better, enviable; they will be Princess Aurora and their groom Prince Philip who would come to kiss them awake to a life so beautiful that it will be castles and fairies.
I have known friends’ describe the unblinking reality of marriage as ‘falling from sky and hitting the ground- hard’. Their lives before marriage are determined by such remarks from family as, ‘you can complete your studies when your married’, ‘I’m sure you can do all your traveling with your husband’, ‘go out with your friends when your husband permits you’, ‘you can have a career once you’re settled’.
The weird thing is that for a woman in Pakistan her parent’s home is not her home but her husband’s house is. In some rural families daughters are told when betrothed that they will never be accepted if they ever return (as in case of divorce or separation) except in their coffin.
So, in our times and much before that women had no identity. Their essence existed in relation to a father, brother, or husband. For that reason, our women do not know who they are just by themselves. They are not an entity neither a reality. They are just vessels that deliver for those around them. They are not meant to live a life of their own. Their essence is that of an earthen pot without a bottom, used to channel water to irrigate the earth.
These are dolls, meant to be pretty. They are given dollhouses to look after and with these they play for the rest of their life. This is the only reality they are taught the only reality that they are expected to live, the only reality they are brought up to. Those that dare to step out of the puddles of norm, are shunned from society- these are the outlaws that attempted to think differently.
However, the youth of nowadays realizes that they are dolls in their dollhouses much earlier than their mother’s realized it. The reality hits home soon after the wedding lights stop glittering in dreamy eyes and it hits hard. They learn that they were taught wrong. This home too is not their home. It is their husband’s and here the word of law is as announced by the mother-in-law or the man of the house.
The dolls do not get to live their dreams. They never get to complete their degrees, or have a life of their own, they can not travel alone, nor can they work because someone with more authority but who is not necessarily wiser said so.
The question that really needs answering is that whether a mass of talking walking meat that takes up some space of this universe does in fact have an essence of its own when the whole world claims owning it but the only one who does not have a right to it is herself? What I get from Ibsen’s play is that you are but a porcelain ‘doll’, not even a human till you have owned yourself.
To own is to know, to know is to ‘live’.