She sat in her office simmering with indignation, fists clenching and unclenching, she
resisted the desire to bang them on the table, as she knew it would rouse the curiosity of
her staff that sat in the adjacent room, the door slightly ajar.
‘Mam, shall I bring tea?’ The assistant peeped in, actually to find out why he hadn’t been
called in with the files.
‘No,’ she snapped, as he tried to inch in.
‘I don’t want tea and tell whoever calls, I’m busy,’ she told her office assistant.
‘And close the door, till I call you.’
She sat thinking. Enough was enough. Aiza had been newly appointed in this office after her
training was over. Fresh from the training academy she did not have much experience of
working among male officers. Otherwise she was a fresh, young, pretty girl with long
straight hair, grey eyes and a curved mouth, giving her an attraction she herself did not
care about. Her seriousness, her calm and poise piqued her male colleagues as well as her
immediate boss, who imagined himself to be a prince charming that no female could resist.
‘Ms. Aiza I hope you’ve studied the files I sent you, you were required to comment,’ he said
‘Yes sir,’ she replied, head held high, eyes straight. She had formed this habit of not looking
at men directly in the eyes. Eyes they say are windows to the soul. Men’s eyes were
windows to their lust, she had found out. She was wary of many things. She had learnt to be
cautious at a very early age. She had learnt to protect herself, but here she found that more
than physical protection, she needed to ignore, rise above and stay unaffected by a very
subtle, sly kind of harassment in her work environment. Words, innuendos, covetous
glances all came her way from her bosses and sometimes even subordinates.
That day after the meeting had ended, she had risen to leave, when Mr. Jawed, one of the
higher ups in the office, had stopped her.
‘Ms. Aiza why do you run away like this? Come sit here for a minute. Let me know more
about you, you’re perhaps new in this office, after all I’m the boss here and should know the
officers working under me,’ he’d added.
Aiza stopped in her footsteps as she had turned to leave.
‘Sir I have work to do in my office, sorry.’ She took some steps forward.
‘Oh, very conscientious! But I’m asking you, and I’m the boss,’ he had stated with beady
‘Sir I’m sorry,’ but she had reluctantly acquiesced. Sitting away from him, eyes downcast,
she waited for him to begin. When she looked up he was examining her from head to toe, a
lascivious look in his eyes. This time her sensors were awake.
‘Sir did you have anything to say?’ she looked directly in his eyes.
‘You’re beautiful,’ he stuttered. ‘Let’s have lunch somewhere, I’m sure you eat; though your
slim form doesn’t show. We can talk there.’ He had suggested.
‘Thanks Sir, I don’t eat in the afternoons, and I don’t accept invitations to eat out.’ She
looked straight in his eyes, boldly, pointedly staring at his white temples, his baldness in
the center and the deep wrinkles around his eyes. She was huffing with indignation as she
stalked out of his office, sat clenching her fists in a rage.
He was not the only one!
Her immediate boss, a young civil service officer in his thirties, considered himself a God
sent to female staff. To her astonishment one day he had stepped into her office with a
bouquet. She looked questioningly at him, surprised to see him like this unannounced in
‘Happy birthday Aiza,’ he breezily greeted, handing her the bouquet.
She was nonplussed as he extended the flowers towards her. ‘You know I was going
through your personal file and discovered your birth date. I thought I’d give you a surprise.
Come on take it, it’s your birthday.’ He had insisted.
Reluctantly she extended her hand, ‘I don’t celebrate birthdays, sir Usman,’ she said. ‘Why
did you take the trouble,’ she questioned.
‘Ms. Aiza, don’t be petulant. You should appreciate that I remembered your birthday. Here’s
a token for a very pretty girl,’ he came too near. ‘Please accept it,’ he said, holding her hand.
She wanted to slap him hard but she just restrained herself.
‘Kindly leave,’ she told him in a controlled voice. ‘I don’t accept gifts nor flowers, thank you.’
She went towards the door, opening it wide and gestured to him to leave.
Soon she realized she had to fight to survive. Sexual harassment was everywhere. The
torture of subtle acts of harassment had to be dealt with tactfully, subtly. She had learnt
very early in her life to fight off advances. She had never imagined she would have to face it
as a mature young civil servant. Her brilliance, her competence, her self-confidence irked
her male colleagues and intrigued her seniors. They wanted to control her. They wanted to
make her subservient to their whims, perhaps obey their beck and call. She stood her
The last straw on the camel’s back was what happened that day. She was doing her work
when Usman, her immediate boss, walked in unannounced. He secured the connecting door
to the assistant staff’s office telling them they had a meeting. She had looked up to see him,
her sixth sense had been aware of his entry, when she looked up to see him standing in her
office. He kept looking at her pointedly till she stood up.
‘Sir?’ She looked at him questioningly. ‘Can I do something for you?’ she asked.
He came around to where she stood. Her inward self quivered but she held onto a serious
expression on her face. She was keenly conscious of her isolated position, but in her heart
she remembered and repeated her vow never to be cowered, remembering that day at high
school when she had hit her tutor, for harassing her physically. Since that day she had
liberated herself from all fears.
‘Would you please state why you’re here or leave.’ She told him categorically.
‘Aiza, I’ve been thinking a lot about you. I have decided to marry you, because you would
not bend otherwise,’ he told her.
‘What?’ She at once literally jumped up and questioned him. ‘You want to marry me to bend
to you?’ She asked him pointedly. ‘Who do you think you are? I despise men who think they
can subjugate a woman through marriage. Thanks. I don’t want to marry you. Leave before
I raise the alarm.’ she had said this, as he tried to hold her to him forcefully. As she evaded
his grasp and stepped away, he was enraged.
He had always been irked by her confidence, but this was too much. ‘Who the hell do you
think you are? You are insolent not to say rude.’ Usman rasped.
‘Yes! I am,’ she stated in a chilly tone.
‘You teaser, you think you will catch men by your prudish coy behavior, I’ll get you,’ he
lunged at her, exposing his shameless lust. Her immediate reaction was to back away from
him, but as he again tried to get hold of her, her intuitive reaction to danger and
harassment awakened. ‘I think Mr. Usman you need to be told a No in the other way.’
Before he realized she kicked him hard in the groin, then another in his stomach as he
doubled up. She walked out to her assistant’s office.
‘The meeting is over,’ she said, head held high. ‘Take Mr. Usman away, he’s not feeling well,
by the way,’ she ordered.
She went straight home. Outwardly she was calm, poised but inwardly she was shivering.
Not with fear. It was rage.
The old feeling of nausea was back. The memory of old days came back; washing her over
with emptiness, with a feeling of loss she had never been able to overcome. She wanted her
mother’s shoulder to weep out her feelings of being bereft of security. She wanted her
mother’s arms around her. Aiza had unfortunately lost her mother at quite an early age. She had a younger brother too.
Often, she recapitulated those wonderful days when her mother was alive. She
remembered her as a pretty young woman with grey eyes, long lashes and wheatish
complexion. It was fun being with her mother Faiza, who laughed and beamed at her
children, her eyes full of love and adulation. Even as a child Aiza was a very sensitive young
girl, too discerning and composed. Perhaps unconsciously she resented her father’s unkind
treatment towards her mother, which wasn’t very obvious before the children. But she was
sensitive to nuances. Even at a very young age she sensed all was not very well between her
parents. Once she’d been in her bedroom and she’d heard arguments between them from
the adjacent room.
‘You went to meet that woman again,’ her mother had sobbed.
‘Shut up and mind your business. Who are you to question me?’ Her father had raged.
‘I’m your wife. You are obliged to be honest with me. Why are you so cruel? Please Sadiq,
don’t betray me. You vowed never to let me down,’ her mother had whimpered.
‘Don’t irritate me anymore. I hate your whimpering whining self. Why don’t you realize I’ve
no interest in you,’ Sadiq had very unkindly rebuked his wife in a disdainful manner.
Aiza was shocked. Aghast. She had never heard such arguments before. She was frightened.
She thought her father would hit her mother. But she had heard him bang the door and
leave. He had started the car, the engine whirring as she heard the door banging again. She
could hear her mother calling pleadingly,
‘Sadiq, please come back, don’t leave me, I’ll die.’ She had cried out as he had revved the
engine and zoomed out. It was nine at night. She was supposed to be asleep. She didn’t dare
go out. Hug her mother. Stop her from crying. She was so frightened that she seemed to
freeze. It was a nightmare for her, which took her sleep away. Her young form had lain
curled in the blanket, frightened even to stir, lest her mother came and discovered she was
awake and had heard the argument. Aiza silently shed tears. She felt for her mother so
much that she wanted to die.
In the morning at the breakfast table her mother seemed quiet and composed, though Aiza
noticed the swollen eyes, as her brother Ali kept asking where dad was.
‘He’s left early for a tour,’ her mother had tried to cover up, explaining their father’s
absence. For Aiza this was another shock. She was disappointed that her mother had lied.
She knew their father hadn’t gone on a tour, but contritely, she thought maybe it was the
truth. This was her journey to learn about life at the very tender age of seven. She loved her
mother, adored her, and felt a strange communion with her, whenever she saw her
mothers’ grey eyes clouded like the darkness of midnight or whenever she was sad. Things
were inexplicable at this age. She couldn’t share her pain with anyone. Her brother was too
playful as boys are.
Then one night she had woken to the loud protestations of her mother, who seemed to be
in some pain.
‘Stop it, stop it you boor, you are hurting me,’ she had cried out as if being strangled. Aiza
was terrified. Eyes opened wide she had sat up. She tiptoed to the door, to hear clearly. It
was dark. Quietly she opened her door, to see if perhaps she could see her mother. She
heard a slap cracking on her mother as she heard her mother cry out.
‘You stupid woman you don’t even know how to please a man,’ she had heard her father
‘What an uncouth peasant I have for a wife,’ he had scorned in a loud voice.
‘I detest you; I don’t know why my parents chose you for my wife, the most unsuitable,
unfit woman. It’s not just your lack of education; it’s your lack of sensuousness that piques
me. Why do you think I go to Nazi? The likes of her know how to please a man, you, you
can’t even keep a husband happy.’ He had scornfully stated.
Her mother could be heard sobbing, as Aiza had quietly sneaked back into her room in the
darkness, shivering with cold and quivering with the burden of the unknown being talked
between her parents.
She had seen her mother dwindling, wasting away slowly, gradually. She hugged her
mother’s unhappy form tight as she heard her crying silently, eyes swollen, trying to hide
her anguish and pain from her children. The roses in Faiza’s cheeks seemed to fade away
replacing it with a paleness and tremulousness, only Aiza’s young sensitive self could
perceive or secretly understand and feel.
She hated her daddy. Despised him for his cruelty but so young as she was, she could not
show her resentment or even breathe out what she had heard and intuitively understood.
No one from her maternal side was allowed to come, and Sadiq himself coming from a low
peasant background and having entered civil service was ashamed to meet his family. Sadiq
was generally good to the children when he was home, tried to humour them with games
and took time out sometimes for a drive and an ice cream. He never asked Faiza to come
along, silently ignoring her forlorn form as she stood like a ghost looking at her children.
Faiza was generally alone and lonely. The tension in the atmosphere at home could be
sensed by Aiza’s small form even at this age, though it was something only felt by the most
Sadiq often secluded himself by remaining in his study, often unsteadily coming out for
dinner if he was home. She thought perhaps daddy was growing old. What did she know at
her age that he was drunk and quite not in his senses. He snapped at his wife if she spoke
and uttered imprecations at the cook for bad menu, or tasteless food, degrading his wife in
front of the servants who were all ears always. Aiza did not understand what was wrong with the food, when even good food sometimes made plates flying towards the servants or
She had heard the servants whisper about the sahib, and snigger at his behavior towards
his wife behind his back. He was a big civil officer, she had come to know one day from the
servants, who were afraid of him because of his position. The cars in the garage and the
staff in attendance made her in awe of her father, and secretly she was scared of him too.
It was a couple of years later that it was discovered Faiza had cancer. Aiza did not
understand what it was her mother suffered from, as she saw her in extreme pain and
anguish. A maid was appointed to look after her as a pretentious show to the world, of
Sadiq’s act of kindness, though he had no time for Faiza or her ailment. The maid was an
eyewash to show the world how much he cared, though seldom he ever asked Faiza about
her condition. The driver took the begum to the hospital and the kind maid who had sensed
what was going on compassionately tended to Faiza. The children were now quite ignored.
Ali went for sports and Aiza huddled in the corner of her mother’s room pretending to read
books whereas she constantly, in-discernibly eyed her mother’s frail form. She would
sometimes lie with her and hug her tight, gaining a strange solace and comfort from it.
One day she had heard her mother whisper for water, and she had at once slipped from the
chair and had taken a glass of water to Faiza.
‘Thanks, my darling,’ her mother had whispered. ‘Why don’t you go to your room and
sleep? ‘She had asked.
‘I don’t want to,’ Aiza replied tearfully. ‘I want to be with you,’ she had said, holding Faiza’s
bony hand, the pink nails now brownish.
‘Please mama get well. I need you. I want you to go with me to my school. All the girls’
mothers come to pick up their daughters. My friends keep on asking me where you were,’
she gushed out.
‘Mama I want you to be like you were. Why don’t you get up, dress well and go out,’ she had
asked in her childlike earnestness and honesty.
‘Aiza you must always remember that I love you. Remember even if I am not able to
accompany you to school, I am not able to pick you up from school, I am there! My whole
self is tuned to you, wherever you are.’ She had stated hoarsely.
‘Also remember even if I am not there I will be looking over you from the heavens. Never
be weak. Don’t be like me! Be strong always. You have to fight to survive.’ She had fallen
back on the bed gasping for breath.
Aiza had clasped her mother to her small form. There was a strange comfort in that clasp, a
warmth and security in her mother’s lap as Faiza had risen on the bed again to hold Aiza
close, cooing comforting words to her.
‘And you know I don’t like daddy. He is rude to you. I think he is unkind,’ her small mind
had summed up the situation and uttered it sobbing.
‘No Aiza, you mustn’t say such things. He loves you.’ she tried to wheedle her, raising her
gaunt form further on the bed. The long tresses had gone away, replaced with a bald-head,
round which a scarf was tied.
‘No! He loves that other woman,’ the moment she uttered these words she put her hand
against her mouth, awash with shame, fright and embarrassment. She rushed out of the
room sobbing, when she bumped into her daddy.
‘Where are you coming from darling,’ a rare word of endearment he spoke these days.
‘You’re not supposed to be going into her room. She is ill!’ he had tried to explain to her.
Aiza had looked at her father strangely. The look in her eyes had perturbed him.
‘I will go, she’s my mother and I love her,’ Aiza had stated before she ran into her room.
To Sadiq this was nothing. He had hardened to pain and sensitivity. He was so full of
himself, his position, his status, his authority that he had lost all humanity and humility. He
scoffed at the silly little girl who showed sentimentality to a dying woman. He failed to
realize the scars he was inflicting on the vulnerable minds of his children.
Aiza shunned him. Avoided taking food when he sat at the table. She was growing up and
she was a sensitive witness to the drama being played out, but she was helpless. Her
mother had started having chemo and Aiza matured with the spectacle of pain she
One day her father brought a woman home. Smartly dressed in the latest of fashions, she
looked around at everything critically. ‘Who’s this mouse,’ she had asked Sadiq as Aiza had
inadvertently emerged from her mothers’ room.
‘My daughter Aiza,’ Sadiq had smiled, as Aiza swished inside again. At eleven years of age
she understood what her father was doing was wrong. It was ludicrous the way he was
drooling over that woman, Aiza had thought. The hate she felt for her father had sealed and
deepened that day.Her mother left them quietly, silently for the other world. She was twelve then.
A show of sorrow was made as condolences came from the high ups. Nobody knew the
poor soul had left this world in torment and torture. As the gathering condoled, Aiza wept
bitterly in her room. She knew what she had lost. She could see through the hypocrisy and
sham of her father’s sorrow. He, who had not even cared to find out what Faiza’s last words
were, was repeating to the people how he looked after his wife.
Aiza wanted to hide somewhere. If there were a grave somewhere she would have hidden
in it. The days passed by in a strange darkness. The kind old maid who offered her services
solved the problem of looking after the children. They were accepted without delay.
Now Sadiq could bring that woman home unabashedly. The walls were a silent witness to
his debauchery and the servants gossiped among themselves. The children’s studies were
neglected and they stopped going to school, not waking up or too listless to dress up. It was
then that Sadiq took the matters in his hand. He became insensitively strict towards them,
thrashing them frequently. When this became known at the school he was summoned and
questioned. The children had failed the exams. He had been so engrossed in his bohemian
life, that the children had become non-existent.
A mother is like a deep-rooted, shady tree that spreads her branches to envelop her
children. She protects them from the scorching sun and icy winds of the world. With the
umbrella of love gone the children were bereft. A maid could not be a mother; if the father
is gone a mother takes upon herself to play both roles. She protects her children from the
harshness of the wind and weather, from the cruelty of the world. She is there like a deep
shady tree. Not a father! Very rarely is it seen that a father plays both the roles. Sadiq was
never truly dedicated to his family, he became more careless, engrossed in his immoral
ways and lifestyle.The children suffered. It was realized the children had stopped their Quran lessons longago, nobody bothered to ask why? Though a tutor for school studies came, nobody
monitored what was being taught. Thus, a Qari for teaching Arabic was engaged; yet again
there was no surveillance or monitoring. Aiza was passing through the throes of growing
up. Only a mother can guide her daughter gently and lovingly, teaching her to be discreet
on certain days. The maid was an illiterate peasant who was compassionate but crude, thus
the budding of puberty was unnoticed by her, though the male servants eyed Aiza in a
peculiar way, which abashed her. She had questioned the maid who had given her lame
reasoning, but Aiza intuitively sensed the strangeness of behavior and started being careful
and aloof intuitively. If Faiza had been there Aiza would have been a more mature and
composed person. Her vulnerability was so evident that even Sadiq’s unseeing eyes had
noticed the change in her one day. Though he was often away on tours he had made it a
point to keep an eye on Aiza, whenever he was home. Making her sit with her head covered
when she sat for her tuition, believing in the fallacy that a Dopatta would protect her.
That day Sadiq wasn’t at home, in fact he’d been away for many days. The Qari came and
both Aiza and Ali went for their lesson in the study. This was thought to be free time by
Naima the maid. Aiza had been noticing the weird behavior of the Qari for many days.
Instead of giving lessons he indulged in frivolous playfulness with Ali. Caressingly patting
his hands on Ali’s body, he sometimes caressed him coaxingly. The door of the study was
usually closed and perhaps he knew there was no monitoring of his activities. Once or twice
she had noticed the Qari touching Ali oddly. She was too naïve to know the implication, but
suddenly to her horror she saw that the fly of the Qari’s pajamas was open, one day. She
was horrified to see his nudity, she had never seen male body parts, but she knew one was
required to cover one’s private parts. She would have literally swooned, except that Ali
gave a shriek and pulled away from the Qari’s grasp. In a second she had bounded out of
doors, screaming at the top of her voice. The maid came running and so did the other servants who had sat gossiping with her. She just screamed and screamed and pointed at
the study. They rushed in to see the Qari sitting composed and Ali sobbing.
Nobody could make out what had happened, as the Qari had tried to cover up the whole
thing by saying Ali was misbehaving. The servants as a matter of fact considered the rich
people’s children spoiled brats, so nobody gave much attention.
The children refused to study from the Qari. The servants, afraid of reprimand, coerced Ali
and Aiza to continue with their lessons but they would not budge. It was then that Sadiq
when he came back was brought into the picture. Both the children were summoned. They
would not speak, did not utter a single word when questioned. Sadiq got up threateningly
to give a thrashing that Aiza broke down. Quivering and sobbing she told her father the
Qari was shamelessly naked and tried to hold Ali tight. Thunderstruck Sadiq was aghast.
With a volley of abuses, he summoned the servants, and thundered at them loudly. They
did not know what had happened! The Qari was brought from his house and Sadiq being in
a position of power ordered the police to take him to the station and give a good thrashing.
The atmosphere in the house was subdued. Sadiq was at a loss how to cope with the
situation. The children were frightened. The servants were whispering tales in the kitchen
and avoided coming in sight. For many days the status quo continued. Children went to
school chaperoned by the ayah and afterwards remained in their rooms. The trauma of the
incident made the children withdraw from people and providentially turned them to their
Aiza was now in her high school. She had grown into a pretty young girl with grey eyes,
clear complexion, and features exquisite like her mother, with long heavy tresses. She was
intuitively conscious of the eyes that followed her. The cook stood a bit longer to talk to her
asking her what she liked while his interested eyes surveyed her, as he stood preening his
mustaches. He’d been with them for years, yet when Sadiq wasn’t home she preferred
eating in her room. Frequently while going to school whenever she happened to look up
she would find the driver staring at her from the rear view mirror. He had been with them
for quite some time and was married and in his forties. When he jumped out to open her
door, he would stand too close, sometimes breathing into her hair as she got out. She
started being careful telling him to keep seated.She was perturbed, upset but had no one to share her worry and confusion with. The only person who could have been her confidante would have been her mother, but alas her mother was not there. A young adolescent girl protected only by her father’s position, sans his presence was the most vulnerable creature alive. She was growing to be a sensible,mature girl at her tender age, more conscious and strong than perhaps many girls who continue to be harassed and abused in manners too subtle to be noticed, but certainly silently borne by them in silence. Perhaps her situation in life as being the daughter of a
high up saved her from the kind of harassment, which other girls suffer while studying
among males or travelling by public transports. They do not even breathe out in fear of
censure instead of getting compassionate empathy.
Her father was now posted in Islamabad and on Aiza’s insistence they went to live with
him, leaving their Lahore residence. She was a loner who did not befriend her classmates,
keeping to herself most of the time. She was in A Levels in a co-ed. It was during one of her
chemistry practicals that an unfortunate incident shook her to the core. Bending on her
microscope to look at some microbes, her long hair falling forward, she felt someone
standing behind her, surely it was the tutor who bowed above her into the microscope, too
close for her comfort, too overbearing. She felt claustrophobic. Quietly, imperceptibly he
slid his hands on her breast. She froze. Her whole form became taut. It seemed as if
lightning burst into her head, blinding her eyes. Slowly she disengaged herself moving
away from him, turning as if in a trance. She raised her hand and cracked a slap hard across
his face.The whole class was dumbstruck. Open mouthed they stood. Head held high she stood
facing him, ‘you dare that again and you’ll be shot,’ she spat at him. Turning towards the
class she stated boldly, ‘He was harassing me, beware this dog.’ And out she walked giving
him a last disdainful look.
The trauma of that remote event and its memory had strengthened her over the years. The
insidious harassment inflicted by servants in the house, men in her co-ed school had
silently made her vow never to bear it anymore. This time her father who had failed her
mother was here, with her and she felt secure.
If she had been some ordinary girl her boldness would have been scandalous. She was the
daughter of one of the highest ups. The tutor was at once suspended and faced enquiry by
the institution, who afraid to lose reputation begged the affair to be hushed. Thus, Aiza
learned to hold her head high always! She became unafraid and confident. She gained the
confidence her mother lacked, as she progressed extraordinary well in her studies.
Over the years Sadiq had changed. Maybe remorse, or maybe the fear of losing his children
through neglect to this world of abuse and harassment made him transform. Or perhaps at
his position in life he could not afford scandal and dishonor. Though Aiza could never
forgive him for his behavior towards her mother, she developed a respect for him. Her
brilliant results secured her admission to a prestigious university abroad. As Ali had passed
his O’ Levels in good grades too, both the brother and sister were sent to study abroad.
‘Please daddy, I want to study law,’ she had pleaded.
‘Sure, you can,’ was his reassuring answer. ‘I am proud of you Aiza; I know you can look
after yourself, be brave and be confident. Just don’t let me down,’ Sadiq had said in a
‘I know daddy,’ and she smiled. The slap on the tutor’s face was a liberating act; it had
liberated her from trauma and fear. It had given her an everlasting confidence and
reassured Sadiq that his daughter was now ready to face the world.
‘I wish you would appear for your civil service exam,’ Sadiq had one day broached the
subject suggestively. She had agreed. With his guidance and encouragement, she had
It was at this juncture when as a mature successful young woman, she realized she was still
eyed by fellow lascivious men as a trophy to be won. The seniors and fellow male officers
patronized her and talked in sexual innuendos, whereas her subordinates eyed her
covetously, not daring to utter anything. They never knew what potential to fight and guard
herself this young woman possessed. These low-minded men of position lacked the finesse
and sensitivity of a woman, always ready to take advantage of their position. But life had
taught her to be brave and remain in-vanquished.