<%-- Page Title--%> Perceptions <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 110 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

June 20, 2003

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A Simple Story

Shumu Haque

Joyita is one of those unfortunate souls who pay for being born at the wrong place, at the wrong time. I met her first when we both were three. Our parents were very close friends, so we also became very close to each other and confidantes within a very short period of time.
We were dreaming of sharing all of life's adventures together until our dreams were interrupted by her parents' sudden decision to move out of the country. Her father got a very well paid job somewhere in the Middle East and he had to take his whole family with him. After a few days of useless tears and tantrums, we resigned to the inevitable and said a sad goodbye to each other. In spite of the barriers of distance and communication, e-mail hadn't yet become so popular and commonly used, our friendship and understanding grew to a point where one of us could understand the others untold thoughts or finish each other's unfinished sentences.
She had to study at a Madrassa there. But being quite brilliant managed to become proficient at English and Bengla. After a few years, she was admitted to an Indian school and from there she completed her A levels with good grades and even mastered Hindi. This is the part of the story that everyone knew. But there were things that happened behind the closed doors.
Joyita's father was one of those orthodox Muslims who take it upon themselves to establish a 'proper Muslim culture' in the family, carefully exempting themselves from the regulations and putting the whole burden on the women. He thought that it was his wife and his daughter's responsibility to maintain the religious edicts, which includes purdah. While he could enjoy all his freedom. He used to beat up his wife and daughter on the flimsiest context. So, it was only too obvious that he wouldn't appreciate his daughter's brilliance and her aptitude for studies, and her creativity.
Joyita didn't accept such oppression silently. She fought with her entire force of will, as a result of which she was mercilessly tortured. It came with such frequency that even one of her teachers had noticed that something was wrong with this favourite student of hers. When a team came to inspect the case, Joyita was given drugs that left her unconscious for a while and the inspectors from school were told that she was not at home. This was only one of the many incidents. Even I am not sure how far this medieval style of torture continued, for she rarely wrote me about any of it. And even when she did, she only hinted at it. She had too much dignity to confess any of such incidents even to a close friend. By the time we all came to know about it, it was all too late.
Her dark days came to a halt for a while when she passed her A levels. It was time to send her to the University. Although her Dad was not the kind of person who would be delighted at such an idea, he finally had to admit that in order for her to be eligible for a good bridegroom, she at least had to go to the University for a while so that no one could say she had only studied up to the A levels. Her father's image was also at stake.

What would people say?
He pretended to find out about the admission procedure at a University in the U.K. He even got her there and right after that he started, he said he had two sons to think about, etc. He sent her to Bangladesh, where she was admitted to North South University in the BBA programme. Joyita was to stay here with her grandparents and study. I believe, the one year or so spent here was one of the few happy memories of her life. I still remember the day I saw her when she came to Dhaka for her education. Her brilliance could be felt from just looking at her. Whoever said that beauty and intelligence don't go together would have agreed that she was a bright exception. I was happily reunited with my friend. We shared all that we had to tell each other and couldn't get enough of each other's stories. We supported each other, cried and laughed together with such assurance after a long time! However, like most such wonderful instances in life, this was also very short lived.
Before Joyita could even complete a year here, her father started to pressure her to marry a guy who didn't even like her name because in his own words, “It is a Hindu name.” Joyita knew what was waiting for her if she were to marry that person. She begged her father to let her finish her graduation at least. She was not given the permission in spite of her good grades at the University and was told that her parents could not afford to pay for her studies anymore, although they had no problem paying for her wedding. “Besides”, added her mother, “we are not asking for your opinion about the marriage, we are just letting you know.”
She had asked for help from her relatives. However, no one in the entire clan was ready to face her father. He didn't only have wealth and power, but was associated with the mafia in Bangladesh.
This was the time when I was preparing to go abroad for my studies. I was unfortunately stuck with my own problems and could do nothing to help her. And as I was going out of the country alone, for studying, I was considered to be a negative influence on her and our meetings were restricted and closely monitored by her family.
I saw tears in her eyes for the first time ever the day I was leaving. She gave me a long hug and asked me never to forget her. I was surprised to hear it and told her that I'd be back pretty soon.
As soon as I reached Toronto, I checked my e-mail and a very precise e-mail from Joyita was waiting there for me. As always, she didn't write much. In fact, she didn't have to. She wrote me that she will miss me and that life could have been a little bit fairer to her. I could feel her tears while going through the words and was alarmed as I could sense something was wrong. I called my mom only to find out that Joyita had run away. I came to know the details as time passed. She was forcefully being taken back to Middle East to be married to that guy who was a ditto copy of her father. I believe that as she saw no other way of being helped out of the crisis, she decided to help herself and ran away. That e-mail was the last thing I ever heard from her. It has been almost two years now and I have sent many e-mails, she never got back to me. She had the right to be angry, I wasn't there when she needed me most!
Her family and relatives kept blaming her ever since for the shame she brought on the family. The elderly ones keep nodding their head saying, “Well, she could have done something else.” What else? Commit suicide perhaps. I don't know what others will say but I have admired and will always admire her for not giving in or giving up. I have no idea where she is today or what has happened to her, but I'm certain that whatever has happened, it is thousand times better then the fate that her brutish father had chosen for her. I admire her for refusing to live the life her mother has lived before her, and the life that many women in this society have come to accept as normal. I don't know what has happened to the dreams she had, but I have confidence on her judgment. I believe whatever decision she took, she had reasons to take it. The tragedy is not that Joyita had to be lost from our lives, but the fact that her parents and many more in the society have still not learned the lesson.


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