“Yaar, this color looks so damn good on me…” she drawls, smacking her lips and throwing a glance at her best friend through the mirror. Lying with her head hanging off the side of the bed, her best friend looks at her and agrees.
“Not one friggin’ shaadi to wear this at, can you imagine? When was the last time you attended a wedding?”
“3 years ago, my cousin’s – in India”, she replies, trying to recall how it felt like to be part of a family gathering.
“I can’t believe your mom let you come today man, I’ve literally been dying for this. Please don’t tell me you have to leave early today too.”
“Shut up and be happy I came. I had to beg her for the whole week to let me come here and make sure I didn’t even let out a breath that might accidentally upset her, and my dad has duty tomorrow so he warned me that I better be ready by 9 pm to be picked up.”
“What the hell – just two more hours?!”
“Can we stop wasting time discussing things that will never change and talk??”
“When is your friend going to go home?” her brother asks for the 16th time. “I want to use the computer in the room.”
“She just got here so go do something else and stop bugging me.”
“What do you girls get out of talking so much anyway? What a waste of life you both are”, he comments flippantly, unaware of the array of brutally honest comebacks she’d kept in her mind for years but never bothered to verbalize.
“Unlike you, we don’t get to go out of the house unfettered, and we still like interacting with real people like normal human beings do. I’m sure your gadget-addicted brain cannot process that so get lost”, she says and slams the door, forcing herself to ignore how different her life is from her brother’s just because of her gender.
“Isn’t it enough that you meet at school everyday? What madness is this coming back and chatting with the same friends at home for hours?”
“But we don’t get time to talk at school mummy, break time lasts only for 15 minutes and we can barely talk about anything”, she pleads.
“When will you ever be satisfied? Even if you lived the whole day with each other your useless bak bak will never be enough for you! I don’t understand what there is to talk so much about? Get up and finish cleaning your room. I have to break my back cooking and cleaning for you everyday and all you can do is come home from school, fill your stomach and sit like a queen and waste time talking to your friends.”
“Why has she called you home again? Didn’t you just meet recently? MashaAllah you keep meeting each other every now and then but always keep complaining that you haven’t met in ages.”
“Ma, the last time we met was three months ago”, she remarks dryly.
“What is this madness of wanting to meet at restaurants and cafes? What do you do there that you cannot do at home? Decent people don’t need to meet outside the house. We’ll get some good food or your mother will cook something, call them home and have a good time here. I just don’t understand this craze of meeting outside. No, you are not going to the mall with your friends, end of discussion.”
“Sana, if your dad can’t drop you, take a cab with Aisha, man. You both live so close, and you won’t be coming alone.”
“Are you mad? There’s no way my dad’s going to agree to let me take a cab!”
“Yaar it’s 2016, there’s Uber, Careem, EasyTaxi, the whole world is using these services now. It’s safe yaar I’ve used it so many times. Tell your dad my parents let me use it, I’m sure he’ll agree.”
“Daddy, I was thinking I could maybe take a Uber or Careem cab to Hina’s house with Aisha. She uses these cabs and said they’re very safe”, she dares to mumble after reconsidering for hours whether or not she should risk it at all.
“What did you say?” her mother asks in exaggerated shock, as she puts down the dishes she was scrubbing. “Happy? Didn’t I tell you she was getting out of hand since she’s been hanging around with that Hina? Happy with the freedom you’ve given her?” her mother lashes out at her father.
“Achcha, so you want to take cabs on your own now? Of course, we have money growing on trees. Where is this tree of money can you show me, Sana? Get me also some of it. Maybe we should plant a few of them right here at home so I don’t need to go and slog at work anymore, you don’t seem to care anyway about how hard your father has to work before you come up with these new new demands. Hina told you they are safe so they become safe? Next Hina will dance naked so will you also go dance naked??? Go to your room and don’t show me your face, you understand?!”
“Now that you’re so independent and earning yourself, what do you need us for? You can keep going and burning your money in those fancy restaurants with your friends, of course God didn’t give you the sense to use your money wisely. Every second day you’re splurging on something just to satisfy your never-ending desires. You’re almost 30 but don’t have the brains and character we had when we were half your age. Try inculcating at least a little humility and sense of gratitude, especially towards your parents. Nobody will want to marry a hot-headed arrogant woman like you otherwise.”
“Listen, my school friends are having a reunion at Outback on Wednesday. Can you drop me?”
“What time?” he asks, annoyed by her new request.
“6 pm. We’ll be there till after dinner, say till about 10-ish”, she responds cautiously.
“So I have to drop you at 6, then drive back in traffic for more than half an hour and then come back to pick you up in 2 hours? Over that, I would’ve just gotten back from work. Now don’t tell me I have to keep the kids.”
“No I’ll take the kids. I even missed the last reunion… this happens only once a year. Even last year I only got to see the pictures on Facebook”, she says trying hard to keep her voice steady and polite.
“If you spent less time looking at other people’s pictures on Facebook and filling yourself with regret for no reason it’d do everyone a whole lot of good”, he snaps. “Be ready at 6 and don’t make me wait in the car for God’s sake.”
Guys, hubby’s agreed to drop me – will be getting the kids. I can finally make it, YASSSS! she texts, excited beyond belief.
“Mammmaaaa, cooooookieee!” her toddler yells.
“Okay sweetheart, let’s make cookies”, she says and heads to the fridge.
Oh great, no chocolate chips and no butter, she mutters in her head.
‘Pls get one pack choc chips and 200g butter on the way home – Hana going mad for cookies’, she texts.
“Sweetheart, once baba gets back home I’ll make you some cookies because we don’t have the stuff now, okay?” she says, desperately hoping there’ll be no meltdowns.
“NOOOOO! Mammmmmaaa, I want cookie now! Cookie! Cookieeeeee!” she bawls and throws a fit, hitting her helpless mother.
“What do you mean you’re feeling suffocated at home? When will you stop crying about this? What else do you want? We go out on the weekends, I come back tired from work and still take you wherever you want to go, I buy you whatever you need, you meet your friends whenever possible. When will you stop eating my brains about this?”
“You spend half your day at work, you come back so tired that I don’t even ask you to take me out anywhere. Where do we go on the weekends except to buy groceries or to some restaurant?” she retorts.
“So what else do you want to do, dance on the streets? What can I do if there are only malls and restaurants to go to here?! Go get a job if you can’t stand being at home.”
“How can I get a job now with the new baby? Where will I leave the kids? Who will take care of the house? Why don’t you understand what I’m saying??”
“WHAT ARE YOU SAYING? Every country has its issues. If this is how life is here, accept it. If I was the king I’d be the first one to legalize driving so I wouldn’t have to keep listening to how trapped you feel inside the house. I don’t understand what the hell it is you want.”
“For God’s sake I don’t see another human being the whole day here!” she explodes. “Everywhere I go, I’m surrounded by walls. If I ever do go out, it’s from home into a car and then into another closed space – either a store or a house or some other damn building. Nobody walks on the streets like back home, everyone is in insulated spaces. The only interaction I have is online and it’s killing me!”
“Well the weather doesn’t allow people to walk about most of the year, fuel is cheap and everyone has cars and the culture is just different here, so it’s not going to be like back home”, he replies, calming down a little.
“I know that”, she groans irritably. “I know all of that for God’s sake! But do you have any idea what it does to us? To girls and women who are stuck at home here either because of paranoid control-obsessed parents or busy husbands or infants or ridiculously over-priced taxis or the complete absence of affordable public transport?! Do you know what it feels like to be a grown woman and not be able to drive in your own car to get some groceries but instead have to wait till someone else is available to get them for you? Or to not be able to interact with like-minded human beings in real-time for days on end? To not see anyone in the neighborhood, to not see signs of human life like kids and families on the streets and in open markets, like everywhere else? To have all the clothes and make-up and shoes but no weddings or parties to attend? To have to go through layers of oppressive protocol just to be bestowed with the right to basic human interaction?? Beg your frustrated parents or spouse for permission first, then coordinate timings in a way that will be suitable for everyone to be dropped and picked up without incident or causing major domestic discord, then be reminded for months on end about how you inconvenienced the person(s) who went out of the way to facilitate your meetings and how indebted you are to them for your doses of oxygen?
What is wrong with this place, what is wrong with us, what happens to desi people as soon as they step foot here? Why do parents forget they grew up in houses with open doors and large windows with neighbors and family streaming in and out everyday and sounds of birds and the rain and vendors walking through the lanes, and not dark apartment dungeons in a land that can never become home? Why do they forget they walked back from school with their friends everyday, they roamed the streets and bazaars with cousins as young people, sat under trees and enjoyed the breeze, and the only thing they needed was their own two feet? Why do they forget that they got to enjoy being part of the groom’s or the bride’s side at numerous weddings while their children would miss out on them year after year because of school or exams or ticket prices? Why do they forget that they grew up with maids and drivers and extended family for support back home whenever they remind their immigrant children about how lazy or spoilt or ungrateful they are? What do they expect when they confine their daughters to their rooms, clamp down on their basic right to interaction and then oppress them with taunts of spending their entire life on phones or on the couch? Why do they expect their teenagers and young adults to want to be at home the whole damn time just because they’re tired of dealing with the world and enjoy nothing more than avoiding everyone and being in the house?
What would husbands call it if they had no daily access to affordable public transport, only their wives could drive and they had to depend on them for access to friends or food or even getting water? What would these same desi parents call it if they were locked inside their houses for their entire childhood and youth because it was either too hot or too unsafe or too expensive or too inconvenient or too late to go out? Hostage. Yes, hostage at home. That’s what they’d call it.”
Note: this article is based on the real lives of a large number of desi girls and women suffering due to a combination of their oppressive culture/home environments and practical realities in KSA. There are quite a few desi women who have not had to suffer this plight, like women of other nationalities (including Saudis) who are living happy lives here because of better socioeconomic conditions and/or loving guardians who understand and provide alternative solutions to the women in their care.
ADDITIONAL note: As expected, the article comes off as a typical anti-Saudi rant to some readers, even though everything from the title to the content is clearly about how a large number of desis take undue advantage of practical realities in KSA to exert control over the women under their care – NOT how KSA oppresses desis. Please re-read the previous sentence as many times as required to clarify to yourself what this write-up is about. To ensure that readers read the article in its specific context and not misinterpret it, I inserted the above note at the end of the article – however this still doesn’t seem to help.
If you are unable to relate to the content of this article because your experiences have been different either because you are a male or because your guardians are sane and just, or because you’re financially much better off than many other desis here or because you have extended family here or because your parents/guardians are very social and maintain a healthy social life, congratulations because you’ve been very lucky to not be suffering a fate countless women currently are. Please don’t invalidate other people’s realities by comparing them to worse situations just because you have never experienced them – you can personally choose to deny that this sort of abuse is happening but it IS, and some basic courtesy and foresight requires that you do not belittle people’s struggles on a public platform where a victim of these circumstances is very likely to read and further be affected by callous remarks.
Feel free to move on to content that you can relate to.