February Issue 2013

By | Bookmark | Published 11 years ago

Her first book was an expose of the shenanigans of the Pakistani bureaucracy, a tell-tale account of how the mostly male developers of Pakistan’s tourism services blundered through their jobs and their forays overseas. The book was a selective memoir of the writer’s stint in the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation and the tales were told with wit, humour and candour.

Two years later, Talat Rahim is back on the book-stands with her second hardback. This time around, however, the subject matter is serious not comical. The stories are not drawn from the writer’s own experience, although the women she writes about are mostly from Rahim’s own social circle. The approach is inquisitive rather than expository. The subject matter: women who have survived divorce.

Divorce is a far more common occurrence these days than we realise. This was in fact the writer’s own discovery when she set about researching and writing this book. “You throw a stone and you are bound to hit a divorcee,” she writes in the book’s preface. More surprising was the readiness with which women agreed to share their stories. The subject is less taboo and more a talking point than ever before.

Down Matrimonial Lane is a collection of 30 women’s personal accounts of their marriage and the circumstances that led to its dissolution. Abuse, deceit, polygamy, misogyny, adultery, promiscuity — the stories in the book are replete with these vices. They read like the most unbelievable and far-fetched fiction, the kind that would lend itself to dramatisation for Pakistani TV soaps.

The stories may appear one-sided to some readers of the book because there is no account of the husband’s side of the story. But justice is served by giving voice to women, and women only, who are seldom seen or heard from and often blamed. This, in my opinion, far outweighs the principles of fairness and balance.

As a reviewer, what I found most refreshing was the women’s openness in divulging some very intimate details about their marriages. Sure, their identities are protected, but even so just to share intimate details of their married life must have taken some courage.

The writer, too, pulls no punches. Her curiosity has definitely got the better of her in this book and she asks rather personal questions without hesitation. The result is a juicier tale which of course makes for a far more interesting read. But I wonder how women of the stories will benefit from the revelations.

While we’re on the subject of the writer, let me throw a few punches too. The narrative would have worked better had Rahim refrained from including her own remarks, questions and commentary. This is often jarring, breaking the flow of the story. Besides, it is of no consequence or interest to the reader that the writer “shuddered in distaste” or that “it sent shivers down [her] spine.”

Rahim has also used a lot of adjectives, adverbs and exclamation marks in her writing. The stories are compelling enough and do not require these crutches to heighten their horror, drama or tragedy.

One final point: the author’s language is rather judgmental in places. This, in my opinion as a reader and a writer, is unprofessional and unwarranted. In one of the stories in which a woman seeks divorce from her alcoholic husband who eventually remarries, Rahim wonders how “a crazy drunk manages to remarry.” Were these words used by the narrator herself, they would have been completely justified. But I do not believe it is the writer’s or interviewer’s place to judge.

Despite these consistent hiccups, Down Matrimonial Lane is eminently readable. Rahim has chosen her subject well once again. In fact, this time round the subject has universal appeal. But more importantly, it is hoped Rahim’s ‘30 Resilient Women’ will have a multiplier effect in reassuring all those women who are facing tough times after the breakdown of their marriages, that there is life after divorce.