A powerful presence, without being present, in all the frenzy of emotion generated by the death of the writer Humayun Ahmed has been that of Gultekin. Her silence has astonished a whole lot of people. Her children were there, of course, beside the coffin of their dead father. She was not. Which again, when you seriously reflect on it, is not surprising at all. Her silence, you could argue, is only natural. People who have been hurt, have been cast aside for little fault of theirs, have either protested loudly or have gone quiet and out of public view. It was the latter course which Humayun Ahmed's first wife, a woman of dignity by any measure and by any interpretation, chose to adopt. Her life was rudely trifled with when she least expected it. She was simply left behind, abandoned to fate. Her children suffered with her. Their father had strolled away.
And thus it is that as we mourn the passing of Humayun Ahmed, we spend some amount of time remembering Gultekin and her children. Like so many others in our time, and before our time, they have been victims of a destiny they did not cause to be foisted on them. Their lives, in a particular sense, were left wounded for reasons that had nothing to do with them. It is, as you might note, a tale we have heard quite often in our neighbourhood. Back in the early 1970s, Humayun Faridee married the woman he loved with a simple and yet poignant expression of passion: he gave her beli flowers. And the couple were blessed by none other than Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It was a marriage made in heaven, in that clichéd manner of speaking. And yet it would not last. Faridee would, in time, find the time and the inclination to walk out of his fairy tale marriage and shuffle into another.
We have not remembered that young bride drenched in the fragrance of beli flowers. We have not stopped to ask ourselves how she and her children, if she has children, have fared all these years. Like any family suffering from a grievous hurt, Faridee's former family has gone out of our orbit. It ought to have been the responsibility of society to keep track of them, the better to know if they were safe, if they were as happy as could be expected in the circumstances. Nothing can be more agonising for a woman and for her children than blundering into the truth that her husband and their father has turned his back on them for another woman.
Pakistan's first president Iskandar Mirza, happily married and terribly fond of his children, nevertheless found himself unable to control his passions when it came to dealing with the wife of an Iranian diplomat based in Karachi. He and she fell in love, to a point where Mirza ended up marrying her. Mirza made sure, however, not to divorce his first wife even as he relished his new marriage to Naheed. But that hardly made any difference. His children never respected Naheed. His family consistently looked upon Naheed Mirza as a wrecker of their family.
Of course it is a most healthy thing to fall in love. But when new love destroys the edifice of a family built through a patient placement of old love, brick by brick and emotion by emotion, it is not love any more. It shifts to being something else, to something of the selfish kind. The late British foreign secretary Robin Cook, on his way to the airport with his wife on what was to be a first step to a holiday together, calmly confessed that he had been having an affair with his secretary. His marriage ended right there. A pained wife, with her children, moved away from him. And he went ahead and married his secretary. He died after a fall on the Scottish highlands some years later. The question he left behind, though, was one he probably could not answer: did he have to humiliate his wife and their children when they did not deserve such humiliation?
Did Zulema Yoma deserve to be thrown out of the presidential palace by Carlos Menem in Argentina? The thespian Dilip Kumar once committed the inexcusable blunder of his life when, unknown to wife Saira Bano, he secretly married another woman. The marriage proved unsustainable. He went back to Saira Bano, fell at her feet and beseeched her for her forgiveness. The lady obliged him. If she had not, we would today be looking at a Dilip Kumar without a future. The repository of deep respect he is today would not be there. It felt good that he came back. But that still does not answer our question of why he needed to stumble into that fleeting infatuation.
Good men, even great men, have hurt their wives and their children both in public and away from the crowd. Gultekin was hurt and remains hurt. Her dignity has kept her going, just as the dignity in Nelson Rockefeller's first wife helped her carry on when her husband Nelson Rockefeller cast his eyes on a very young woman named Happy. She made Rockefeller happy, but that act of giving happiness came at a cost. The first wife lost her hold on life and Rockefeller never made it to the White House.
Long years ago, as the historian Antonia Fraser went around saying goodbye to everyone at a dinner, the playwright Harold Pinter pushed a question at her. "Must you go?" he asked. Months later, she came to him as a lover, as a wife. The hurt her children and her former husband must have gone through, the degree of it, is a reality we can only imagine.
The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.
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