Monisha K Gumber is a bestselling author of immensely popular teen novels titled: Sick Of Being Healthy and Dying To Live. This is her first book for adults, which is long awaited and already creating a buzz. Monisha is an army kid and has moved with her family around all over the country, and says that her background has made her more accepting and humble. Like most people from her generation, she has the usual MBA and many years of corporate experience, until she decided to move into the arena of writing. She hopes to write entertaining, simple, yet inspirational stories that make a difference. She is also passionate about alternative healing and wishes true health and happiness for all. Currently she lives in Bahrain with her family including two dogs and two cats.
I badly need a haircut. That’s what I always say to myself whenever I look in the mirror and see a face that’s getting softer and a jawline that’s slowly disappearing. I then look at the big picture (!) – despite the random hours spent on the treadmill and daily twenty minutes of Pranayama, I am nowhere near my goal of being able to wear that shimmering black saree with a backless blouse on my anniversary. Growing up is not fun once you hit forty. Because after that it’s like you can never be in your thirties again. For the last few years I don’t think I have ever gone to bed without planning my diet and exercise routine. Usually it doesn’t last more than a day. But recently, I realized I was counting on these salons to restore my youth and beauty. A pedicure and eyebrows usually does the trick. But nothing can beat a new hairstyle for lifting your spirits.
Well, this is just one of those days, as mostly I don’t really care. But today I do, so let me try to do something dramatic for a change. Tonight Sunny is coming home after a week of those boring, never-ending board meetings; so let me take out that shocking-pink lingerie that’s been lying in my cupboard for ages. So, with a new hairstyle and some red lipstick, I will try making him excited in bed again. I hope this time I don’t fail. I also hope that the lingerie still fits.
Before you get even more interested to find out what happened that night, I have a confession to make. This is not my story. It’s actually the story of the hairstylist I went to for that dramatic look. But something even more dramatic happened. This book.
“Madam – did you recognize me? It’s me – Sawera.”
I turn around and see a stunning face with the same small nose and glossed, bee-stung lips. And those enigmatic eyes – those shiny black Arabian pearls – still reflect her grey and humid past, adding to the mystery. Oh, why is God so generous with some women?
We hug and I feel her delicious scent. And the same old pang of envy returns. Nothing personal. Just something a woman feels when she sees someone more beautiful. Even more so, as the small nose has a diamond on it now.
“Sawera! What are you doing here? I thought you had left the country!” I exclaimed.
“Madam, I did, but came back. You know, one can never leave Bahrain.” She smiled.
Yes, I knew. Like those thousands of expatriates, we come, fall in love with this place; after a few years realize we miss home and leave for good. But that ‘good’ doesn’t last longer than a
year or two as we come back again. Bahrain. The land of a million palm trees and even more smiles. A small island with a big heart.
“Yes, I know... I didn’t know you worked here. Such a swanky place,” I said wonderingly.
“Actually, madam, it’s my own. Remember, I used to tell you about my dream. Alhamdulillah, it finally happened. Reshma Salon and Spa,” she said, with a childlike twinkle in those eyes.
“Wonderful, Sawera, I am so proud of you. I came for a haircut but that can wait. Tell me everything, do you still do massage? We could talk there,” I suggested.
“Usually I don’t, but for my old customers like you, madam, I will do anything,” she assured me.
I knew she meant it. She is the same Sawera who used to go from house to house, threading, waxing and massaging her way to support her four children in Pakistan. Beautiful from inside, too. Despite having lived such an ugly life. But I needed to know everything. From the very start. Especially now that she had finally made it. And what could be a better place to talk than a spa?
A chilly night in November, 1978: Lakkar Mandi Village, Multan District, Pakistan
“Mubarak, Reshma, your prayers have been answered. You have become a mother.”
Ammi was too stunned to react but her hands automatically went up towards the holy skies to thank the Ar-Rahman, Ar-Rahim, her Allah who had bestowed this title on her. My Ammi had finally become one, when I was born.
In the other room of our dilapidated house, lay Khala on the floor, supervised by Dai-ma and her self-proclaimed assistant, a haggard old lady from the neighbourhood. I am told that it was a very long and difficult labour, spread over twelve hours through the coldest night of the season. When I was born I was still in the shell of the caul – maybe it was my way of telling the world that I would always need protection; but nature is cruel. My slippery cover was torn apart when I was pulled out and handed over to my Ammi, who had been waiting for my arrival for the last ten years. No cleaning up. No bath. Given away. In raw flesh and blood.
Sixth-born to my Khala but Abbu-Ammi’s first daughter. Their laddo, khuda ki niyamat – their baby – midnight’s child named Sawera – the first irony of my life. It was a pact between my Khala, the one who gave birth to me, and my Ammi, who brought me up, that I would be handed over as soon as I was born. Ammi and Abbu had been desperately trying to have a child for a decade and after three miscarriages and hundreds of visits to the pir babas, Ammi begged my Khala to bail her out, else Abbu would have remarried a potentially more fertile girl from the village. We were all poor but still extravagant when it came to children. Did not mind having a lot or even giving away one or two to the needy. Especially when the needy one happened to be your sister. Khala was very kind, but I am not sure if she was fair.
My birth gave my Ammi a new confidence. Like all women of our community, her sense of worth came from how her mother-in-law treated her, which came from how many children she could bear. Married off at just fifteen to a widower cousin double her age, her only hope was getting pregnant as soon as possible. Pure like a white dove, with a voluptuous bosom and swaying hips, as inviting as moist farming soil, it came as a rude shock when she failed in her foremost duty as a woman. It did not matter if she was the most beautiful woman in the village. It did not matter that her husband loved her. The fact that she was unable to bear children degraded her to a non-existent being. Her old mother-in-law was already looking for a second wife for her son. My birth saved my Ammi. And not just once.
I wasn’t considered a lucky charm for nothing. Just nine months later, Ammi became a mother again. This time for real. Omar came into this world, stilling the wagging tongues of our relatives once and for all. Sometimes I wonder if Ammi and Abbu made out the same night I came into this world, and conceived their first born. My twin brother – or almost.
Abba used to work as a carpenter for a small furniture shop in Muneerabad. Like all ambitious young men, he too had a dream of going bahir. He was sick of seeing his delicate wife slogging in poverty amidst the harsh tirades of his cruel mother. It was time to make some decisions. I think the birth of his son made him believe enough in himself again to venture into new territory. He was jealous of his cousins, returning from the Gulf with bags full of imported toys and perfumes. Some of them even brought gold bangles. He heard fascinating stories of skyscrapers, air-conditioned cars and belly-dancers. He now wanted to live that life. If not, he would be content with a new motorcycle and perhaps a small house of his own. But even for such bare necessities he had to get out of these accursed lanes of his village.
He sold off his wife’s gold chain, his land and his two goats to accumulate enough money for an agent. At first, the women of the house were very hesitant to send him off but the lure of a good life was enough to bid him goodbye. They chose to rubbish the somewhat different story of another cousin who returned from a Gulf country after ten years with nothing but a frail body and an empty spirit. The poor man was robbed of his belongings as soon as he landed there and was made to work in the excoriating Middle-East summers as a construction worker, sometimes twelve hours at a stretch, even during Ramzaan. When he tried running away, he was kept practically a prisoner for three years until the government declared amnesty and some lucky illegal immigrants were allowed to return to their homelands.
By Monisha K Gumber
A tale of utter desperation and fierce hope. And a fight for honour. Meet Sawera. A beautiful and sensual woman. Born in Pakistan, raised in the Middle East and abused wherever she goes.
Struggling to find acceptance, which eludes her over and over again, she ends up being an outcast. Who belongs nowhere and to no-one. Used and manipulated by the men she loved, from the depths of her
soul she claims her self-respect, along with the faith to overcome her pitiful circumstances.
Where does she find her strength? What is the breaking point? How does she get over the demons of her past? Follow the story of Sawera, a child born of midnight into the dawn of hope. Uncover the secrets and conspiracies that make her the woman she is. Read her story, a story of survival.
Monisha K Gumber