There are so many nuances to Nighat’s character that it would be hard to dissect them all in one blog post. She has lived a life of overt patriarchy and internalized it. She also has been a victim of misogyny. Unfortunately, she internalized that too.
Nighat Afshan is the protagonist of my debut novel, All’s Fair. There are many reasons to hate her and just as many to pity her also.
Many people weren’t happy with Nighat getting a happy ending. They thought she deserved some type of punishment for ruining her sons’ lives and for being a source of a lot of heartache for Tanya and Maha, her two daughters-in-law. People thought that her unjust treatment of Bilal was unwarranted even though Bilal was a child of rape. Marital rape!
We have become so immune to the idea of forced sex in marriages that of course Nighat’s lifelong conflict with love for her child and abhorrence for the way he came about to be are poorly understood. There’s the implication by many readers that she should have loved him because he was a product of a crime just as much as she was the victim. That she should’ve reserved some compassion and kindness for him. Many failed to understand her fierce love for Azhar, her oldest child. Why was Azhar so special? What did Bilal do wrong? Surely, Azhar’s birth, which happened through somewhat consensual sex, wasn’t a credit to Azhar. Then why was Bilal’s birth a discredit to Bilal? People have asked me so many questions that I have saved answers in my notepad and break them out as needed.
But the questions also remind me of how marriage and rape are sometimes two sides of the same coin in loveless marriages. How many women enter coercive marriages in Pakistan and how many of them live this marriage through hell and high water. How many get raped because that’s sex to them. “Raped” has become an adjective with times. Married women can’t have that label. They’re having married sex. Their non-consent isn’t considered “no”. It’s just considered a social norm.
When a child is born through rape, a woman lives the trauma of that rape everyday. Sure many women can find motherhood soothing and neutralizing for such trauma. But many women don’t. Nighat couldn’t! She became a caricature of her former self. She became vindictive and vicious. She became a dichotomy of character. She leant towards silently living objects, like plants, to show love and receive love. She stopped placing her love in other humans, except Azhar, and in fleeting moments, her father. In moments that were even rarer, she had some love for Tanya, the woman whom she loved to hate and hated to love.
Nighat’s story is a tale of lost identity. She was denied an education and later was also denied the right to choose a partner.
Her oldest son who was the center of her life had openly misogynistic traits that rendered their relationship fractured and dysfunctional. However, because she had always seen Azhar as her savior, she loved him without reserve. Some might even conjecture if Nighat was capable of loving any man who didn’t come packaged in toxicity.
Bilal inadvertently became the man who paid the price for all the injustices. He also truly became the man who helped her in her emancipation. He understood the pain of rape and the pain of domestic violence. He also finally orchestrated Sabir’s (Nighat’s husband and his own father’s) downfall.
So I gave Nighat a happy ending because she hadn’t had a happy beginning. Because her rape was largely unacknowledged. Her perpetrator was her husband. She had never slept with an abandon that all women deserve.
It could be a subconscious mechanism that I helped one woman get a happy ending. In a sea of women with unacknowledged rape at least a fictional character got to have a happy ending.