Khaled Hosseini, a famous Afghani novelist, migrated to the United States of America in 1980 after the Soviet military intervention. This war brought intolerance, hunger, dread and death to many Afghan people. Thousands of people who had money or high connections fled to other developed countries like Europe or the USA.
Hosseini was fifteen when he migrated. By profession, he is a general physician. But, when he wrote his best-seller novel, The Kite Runner, he decided to quit his field to write full-time. And then he wrote another best-seller, A Thousand Splendid Suns: a novel about the hardships and misfortune of an Afghan woman, Mariam. An illegitimate daughter, her father Jalil Khan was a well-known businessman of Herat, a western city of Afghanistan. He owned cinemas, shoe shops and gardens of various fruits. Her mother, Nana, was a servant in Jalil’s house. When her belly began to swell slowly, his other three wives figured out that their husband was the reason for it. So, they pressured him to kick her out of the house as soon as possible.
Jalil was reluctant to do so. Eventually, they decided to make a room outside the city, uphill. Nana was helpless: left to live in that single room alone. She wondered as to why, if they sinned collectively, only she had to pay the price. Jalil’s servants or legitimate sons fulfilled their duty to deliver rations to Nana every month. Days, weeks, and even months passed after Mariam was born. Nana gave birth alone: with no hospital, no doctor or medicines. After some weeks, Jalil visited to see his illegitimate daughter. His heart was not soft enough to get them a house, but he decided to visit them every week.
Nana became a psychotic patient. She always scolded Mariam, called her “harami” (illegitimate daughter). But Mariam wasn’t old enough to understand the word. She was very fond of her father. She always waited for his visits that made Nana jealous. Nana told her every day that men are not worthy of being trusted. They leave women in the well of trouble and walk away as just nothing happened. She taught her a lesson: that like a compass needle unfailingly points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman.
Stop here for a moment, and we need to look at this lesson from a Pakistani perspective.
Noor Muqaddam’s murder case is not old. Many men on social media argued that Noor was the only person to be blamed. Why did she go with this friend? Why didn’t she inform her parents? When you go against society’s customs, you must bear the consequences. Noor was an easy target for accusations.
A woman was raped on the motorway. Even police officers had views similar to those of social media misogynists. Why did she travel at night? And why did she choose the motorway to reach her destination? It is the same thing that Khaled Hosseini depicts through the life of Mariam and her mother.
Now, again, we continue Mariam’s story.
Mariam spent the early fifteen years of her life in that single room without electricity, a toilet, or schooling. However, her father hired a tutor to teach her Quran. One day, when the sun was moving towards the west, Mariam visited her father’s house. She came to Herat and asked the address of Jalil Khan from a driver, who guided her to his house. At the gate, the security guard stopped her. When she told him that she was the daughter of Jalil and wanted to meet her father, the security guard went inside the house and came back after some time. He told her that her father was out and it was not known when he would return, so she must go home to her mother and her father would visit her soon.
Mariam refused to go back, and the guard refused to let her in. She spent the whole night outside of the house in the cold. The guard forcefully took her back to her mother the following day, but Nana was hanging from a tree. She had committed suicide. Jalil came to the funeral ceremony and took Mariam to his house. Mariam didn’t stay many days in his home due to his other wives. They again forced him to make marriage arrangements for Mariam. Within days, Mariam was forcefully married to a man three times her age. Mariam’s husband was from Kabul, and she left her father’s house forever to live with her husband.
Her husband, Rasheed, was a famous shoemaker in Kabul. He turned out to be a male chauvinist who always crushed Mariam. He ordered her not to go outside of the home without her veil. Her life from one room of Herat to Kabul didn’t change at all. Her first baby died. Rasheed didn’t talk to her for days and even weeks. He began to sleep in a separate room. Mariam didn’t have any other option but to bear all the hardships with patience. She did so: even when Rasheed married another girl, his second wife, Laila, a young girl who gave birth to a baby girl.
Rasheed used to beat Laila because he blamed her for producing a girl. Mariam and Laila were helpless before him. They were unable to complain against him. Most of the women of Afghanistan at that time were facing the rage of their husbands, brothers or fathers. There was no one to whom they could have complained. Out there, mujahideen were fighting each other and killing hundreds of people daily. In the end, the Taliban succeeded in taking control of Kabul. Women began to think there would be some joy in their life. At least the war had ended.
Little did they know that if at first they faced a stream, now they were about to face a river…