The Upstairs Wife

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The Upstairs Wife

Post by confuzzled dude on Sat Jul 08, 2017 9:30 pm

In the mid-1950s, when the Pakistani prime minister Mohammad Ali Bogra falls in love with his secretary, it occurs to him that according to the Islamic principles on which his country is governed, he would be legally within his rights should he take a second (or even a third and fourth) wife. What he doesn’t calculate, however, are the social consequences of bigamy. His decision to remarry so infuriates his first wife, Hamida Bogra, that she initiates a women’s rights campaign calling for reforms in marriage law.

Hamida Bogra’s agitation results in the passage of the Muslim Family Law Ordinance of 1961. Though the statute secures nominal marital protections for women, it fails to ban polygamy or allow women to initiate divorce. So 25 years later, when the writer Rafia Zakaria’s Uncle Sohail falls in love with an officemate in Karachi, there is nothing to stop him from following in the footsteps of the former prime minister. Privately devastated and publicly humiliated, his first wife, Amina, moves back into her father’s home in defeat. Zakaria, then only 10, is perplexed: “I had never known that a man could have two wives.”

Bowing to the pressure of community elders, Aunt Amina eventually returns to her husband’s home, where she lives on the top floor while the second wife occupies the ground floor. “The arrangement when one man had to be shared by two women was methodical, inspired by the Quranic prescription that asked every man taking more than one woman to do so only if he could do ‘perfect justice’ between them,” Zakaria explains. Aunt Amina and her rival agree to spend alternate weeks with their husband. The household is an “oddity”; no other man on the lane has two wives. In their neighbors’ homes, “‘Is Sohail upstairs or downstairs tonight?’ always managed to draw a laugh from the most harried of housewives, the most overworked of husbands,” Zakaria writes.

“The Upstairs Wife” unfolds incrementally: Every new scene in Amina and Sohail’s marriage is paired with a scene from Pakistani history. There is often a wry elegance to these pairings. The original marriage proposal to Aunt Amina from Uncle Sohail comes within days of Pakistan’s forfeiture of East Pakistan (Bangladesh), what Zakaria calls “the first and only public surrender in modern military history”; the year that a distraught Aunt Amina returns to her father’s house, Benazir Bhutto returns to her father’s home, too, after seven years of self-imposed exile from Pakistan. Zakaria juxtaposes private dreams and divisions against public ones to powerful effect. Aunt Amina may be the only woman on the lane who has to share her husband, but she is hardly the only woman struggling to accept the “perfect justice” accorded her under Pakistani law.
https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/29/books/review/the-upstairs-wife-by-rafia-zakaria.html

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Re: The Upstairs Wife

Post by silvermani on Sat Jul 08, 2017 10:38 pm

About 1-2 generations ago it wasn't uncommon for Hindu men to take second wives. Failure to conceive children was a common reason. To this day, this practice continues, but mostly among people below middle class status. And in the movie industry also there are some prominent personalities who have taken second wives without divorcing the first.
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Re: The Upstairs Wife

Post by confuzzled dude on Sun Jul 09, 2017 8:37 am

silvermani wrote:About 1-2 generations ago it wasn't uncommon for Hindu men to take second wives. Failure to conceive children was a common reason. To this day, this practice continues, but mostly among people below middle class status. And in the movie industry also there are some prominent personalities who have taken second wives without divorcing the first.
Per author, it is not a common practice in Pakistan which is why it left such a strong impression on her.

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Re: The Upstairs Wife

Post by Hellsangel on Sun Jul 09, 2017 11:54 am

Comrade, Pakistan has no 3T, so should India abolish it too?
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