During all this time, conditions were very difficult due to the father’s constant unemployment but Neelum and Pappo were the patient girls of a patient era. They never requested anything from their mother and father; nor asked for money for copies and pencils for school. Their father getting unemployed was a routine matter for them. So they did not have an idea about what is meant by economic well-being and as to when happy days would arrive in their home.
Neelum went to America after marriage, so Pappo handled the role of elder sister but she could not bring the younger sisters and brother under her control. She tried very hard to control them from her side but all was to no avail. She would say to her brother Humayun after locking him up in a room, latching it from outside, ‘I will not let you come out if you won’t learn your lessons.’ But the brother would deceive her. He would begin to wander about in the streets by jumping outside from the window or would keep reading his father’s books and literary journals kept inside. Pappo became aware of this after many years.
Upon attaining womanhood, she was married to a beautiful, catty-eyed major. Both were beautiful: the couple was really befitting for each other. The major loved his wife firmly. Pappo became happy but her environment had changed. She still had a great love for singing songs but in the family that she had been married into, nobody was aware of the world of art and music there. Pappo yearned to sing. She would close the doors of the innermost room of the house located in a mohalla of Chauburji from all four sides. When there was nobody else in the house she would begin to sing openly. She would pay a child of the mohalla, making him stand in the street to ask him that tell me is the sound being heard in any home outside. A sense of deprivation at not being permitted to sing freely began to become a wound for her soul and many years passed like this.
The major was good-hearted but very quick-tempered. He would rage on every occasion, therefore it was obligatory to follow his will. Pappo strangled her throat and kept swallowing the bitter pill of patience. When does a woman get the permission to express her talent in this suffocated society easily? The misfortune is very much that those who have a zeal for music in our society are still not viewed with respect. Although a relaxing thing like music very much has the status of a blessing, Aurangzeb Alamgir remains alive in every era – who puts restrictions on singing men and women and wishes to bury musical instruments. Sounds remain suffocated in death cells and closed rooms and stories end.
Sumbul, too, was sacrificed as an offering upon this type of prejudice, being the daughter and daughter-in-law of a middle-class family. And for year after year, she very much crushed the tunes in her throat; but this distress consumed her from within
Sumbul, too, was sacrificed as an offering upon this type of prejudice, being the daughter and daughter-in-law of a middle-class family. And for year after year, she very much crushed the tunes in her throat; but this distress consumed her from within. For many years she remained fretful. The desire for singing was very intense within her but she remained helpless due to the domestic environment and prohibitions. After the passage of many years when she became free of the responsibilities of her children, then she asked her husband for the permission to fulfill her hidden wish; rebelled against the in-laws’ associated with the Tablighi Jamaat and began some light singing, but time is a flowing river. When does it remain stopped? By then, lots of water had flowed under the bridge. It had been a long time. This feeling keeps consuming her every moment like a weevil: that she could not learn the art of singing on a systematic basis; could not work the charm of her voice in this world on time and the caravans kept on moving ahead.
Among all her sisters, most of all it is she who has a lady-like temperament. In her youth, ladies of the upper-class were her friends, with whom she went to parties, spent time laughing and singing. Upper-class ladies clad in diamonds and jewels and expensive clothes would really impress her. She befriended them and began to associate with them. But the upper class was actually not her class, so she very much had to separate from them. She would often say to her sisters, ‘If I was rich, I would never favour you, in fact would not even talk with you.’ All would laugh at this but all felt that the goddess Laxmi was never really kind to her, never allowed her to visit the former openly, did not give her financial well-being. Due to this, the passion of doing something without caring about the consequences, of becoming somebody, kept taking root within Pappo.
She herself too is the most devout among all sisters. She is a die-hard observer of prayer and fasting but considers the Divine to be more of a stick-wielding magistrate than some kind friend. She is very afraid of God. However, Neelum considers God to be an understanding friend.
Her acts and habits are the most singular. She is the master of her own will. Whatever occurs to her heart, she considers it very much correct. She has never liked new clothes sewn by the tailor. Often she spoils them too much while fixing them herself by opening them and then giving them away to a maidservant. Sometimes she burns her properly fair face by putting bleach on it; then sometimes she completely destroys her hair by putting on a strange dye. Sometimes she forgets to take off her lenses while putting them in her eyes; then sometimes injures her eyes while searching for the lenses in her eyes despite not having worn them ever. During this operation, she has also been to the hospital late at night once or twice, worried. She likes wearing an extremely high-heeled shoe, however much the feet may falter. If someone is worried looking at her heel, she immediately defends herself by saying, “If I am not facing any difficulty then why are you troubled?” She is pretty and considers herself to be very pretty.
She was very scared of war in her childhood. When all the lights were switched off for blackout at night, then Sumbul would fear that the bomb-carrying plane would notice their home even then and with this fear she would try to protect herself by stuffing the cracks in the doors and windows of the house with dupattas and dirty rags. Today she is very vexed by mention of advancing age and expression of the danger of illness. She wants that nobody ever asks her age. Like every normal woman and Dorian Grey, she too wants to stay and look young and healthy.
Pappo like her mother, husband and many other women is very fond of Indian dramas. All three watch and comment upon these dramas with great eagerness. Sometimes PEMRA shuts down these channels. Then life becomes desolate and the heart sad. Pappo musters courage to get up and reaches the cable company office while cursing PEMRA. Reaching there, she returns finding out the new schedule and also tells off the staff. Both she and her husband share this concern.
The major has retired before retirement, in a way. So Pappo thinks day and night to do something for her family and help her bread-winning son. She only knows one thing, that is to sing. At this late stage of life she began to take advantage of her melodious throat and fulfilled this old desire of hers too. Even now, whenever she gets the chance, she sings and tries to support both her heart and budget. Like a phoenix she can sing every kind of raag. When a phoenix is dying, it gathers dried wood and sitting there sings Raag Deepak which ignites the wood and it too is extinguished. Then when rain falls, an egg is created from this very extinguished ash and a new phoenix is born.
Pappo, too, has been reborn and is now stepping into the field of performing arts. There is no doubt that had she gotten the opportunity in time, she too would have become famous in this field like Bushra (Ansari).
Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist and award-winning translator and dramatic reader based in Lahore, where he is also the president of the Progressive Writers Association. He is currently working on a book ‘Sahir Ludhianvi’s Lahore, Lahore’s Sahir Ludhianvi’, forthcoming in 2021. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and award-winning translator and dramatic reader based in Lahore, where he is also the president of the Progressive Writers Association. He is currently working on a book, Sahir Ludhianvi’s Lahore, Lahore’s Sahir Ludhianvi, forthcoming in 2022. He can be reached via email at email@example.com