desi, gender, poetry


This is a poem that I’ve had hidden away for seven years. It tells the story of my own sister’s divorce in Pakistan, and the response from many on-lookers. There were sympathetic words too, but they were mostly muted – because no one wants to be on a losing side.



Hi there.
What happened to you?
He broke your heart?
Took you for granted?
Hurt your feelings, left you? Degraded,
dehumanized, derided you?

He treated you like dirt?
What’s new?

It’s your own fault, you know that, right?
Did you provoke him?
Did you annoy?
Did you disobey him?
Refuse him sex?
Did you frown? Were you sad?
Depressed, anxious, insecure?
Didn’t you know he didn’t want to see that?
Do you know
he should see you smiling, ever,
always beautiful, alluring,
fertile with many male children,
a courtesan goddess-like holding
in many hands a broom, a pan,
a telephone, a brief-case, diaper,
a child, a prayer-rug, a delicious meal,____

And if you should see him whispering into the telephone
and you are not on the other side,
shut your ears and pick up the broom,
the pot, the child, and smile. For he is,
foolish one, after all, a man.
It is for him to hunger for more.
Isn’t it true that you’re a tiny morsel
and his belly the divine cosmos?

You questioned him?
Probed him? Why, it’s true.
It is your fault.
It is true what your in-laws say:
you’re a slattern, good-for-nothing,
your bruises probably of your own hand.
The black eye from his heavy fist
divinely inspired. He threw you out, well, woman,
what else should he do?
Does he need the dis-ease you bring?
Does he not have many more options?
Aren’t there many more downcast virgins
waiting for his gaze to alight?
Are there not hungry sisters at the door,
circling over your sky in wait?
Many more elderly mothers, waiting,
watchful, for you to slip and fall?

It is true then, I knew it was.
We all knew it was your fault.
Your parents knew it, your uncles knew.
Your aunts were happy to tell you so.
Your cousins’ eyes shone to recognize
destruction looming over your head.
A circus! A show! A tamasha! Look!
I knew it would happen. We saw it come.
I told her not to disobey.
She never would cook the rice quite right.
She didn’t smile at her father-in-law.
She didn’t play the game as we did.
She thought she was special! So what if he
did beat her, slapped her? How’s that new?
I never complained when my husband did.
I never stepped out of my house, or thought
to see a lawyer, or picked up my child
and ran out, bare-headed and barren-eyed.
I never followed him when he slipped out to meet
with a woman, or asked him why.
Serve her right!
Serve her jolly well right!

Look at her now,
alone, unsmiling,
she plods her way to work each day.
Courage? Diligence? Self-reliance?
Hah! All I see is a divorcee
who doesn’t sweep her porch every day,
who doesn’t have a front porch to sweep,
who doesn’t serve dinner to a man,
who doesn’t have a man to serve,
in this little world where to be is to have
a man to serve and to answer to.
Look at her children. Fool. She chose
to take them. Didn’t she know that they
are not her’s, and will never be her’s?
She’ll fail, we only await the end.
See them, hungry-eyed, look up
at uncles and grandfathers, see them look
at my children’s toys and books, the house,
the garden, the dog, the private school.
Shield the blessings that we alone possess
from their eyes, lest they snatch them away.

“Where is your father? Why don’t you have one?
What do you mean, he turned you out?
Didn’t he love you? Doesn’t he see you?”
They are like animals with chewed-off tails.
Don’t let them play with your toys because
their eyes are too hungry, their need too large.

In this world, where I have lived
and where I have died, a woman is death.
She brings death with her birth, and her
first cry calls upon her mother to weep.
The cycle of tears continues, they sob.
The wheel continues to turn. And there is
everything that I can do.

(January 11, 2001)

20 thoughts on “Divorcee”

  1. This part was seriously haunting. Crushing.

    About the kids:

    See them, hungry-eyed, look up
    at uncles and grandfathers, see them look
    at my children’s toys and books, the house,
    the garden, the dog, the private school.
    Shield the blessings that we alone possess
    from their eyes, lest they snatch them away.

  2. OMG! This is truly raw and the TRUTH! Why is it always the woman’s fault?? But I think things are starting to change (even if very slowly). I have a friend who got married and was not treated *right*. She immediately spoke to her parents and seeing that there was no solution, her parents, especially her father made sure that she was divorced(imagine she was married to cousin’s son). She is now happily married to a nice man. Alhamdullilah, she has the support of her family.

  3. Mashahallah. Very well written. Moreover, it really hits all the key points so hard, that at times i barely held back tears. I guess having grown up there, i could totally relate to this.

    The question that comes to my mind is WHY? and WHAT can we do to change this?

    any suggestions?

  4. This is now one of my favorite poems. It is so powerful and though written for your sister, like all good poems, universally applicable. I can think of at least two others who would read this poem and believe you wrote it thinking solely of them.

  5. True as pain and the most honest and heart wrenching poem I have read in a long time. Every woman should read it, and every man also. Bravo.

    Even though you wrote it for your sister, it is indeed universal as Aisha says.

    May Allah bless your sister and her children and ease their way. And may He bless you and your family also. Ameen.

    Ya Haqq!

  6. Thanks for sharing…what can we do? We can make sure our women know–KNOW–that they are loved and supported and that lesser treatment of our loved women will NOT be tolerated. Here in the US is the next, almost as tragic, step in the evolution of humanity: we have so many women who CHOOSE to grow old alone, finding it to be less trouble than carrying a man all the way. The ideal? For a person to find a life-partner who carries him/herself equally, side by side, as a helpmate, not a servant.

    Can you get this poem published somewhere, many somewheres? It IS very well done, and really gets the point across…it’s a frightening message, and the poem is just too good to stop reading it. You have to go on!

  7. On the other side of the coin, we suspect that husby’s sister might not be treating her husband right…HMMM. Verbal abuse is just as ugly as physical, really. What to do about that?

  8. wow,
    so this poem really hits at some very real things i am going through right now…

    I am searching every night for something, and tonight I found something…so maybe I can sleep in peace today…

    Thanks for this..

  9. Wow ! Going through a divorce myself these days , as Vinod said “It ripped every tissue in my heart”
    Every word written is so true and applies to most of us who go through this horribly painful process . For us desis it’s still a man’s world ,yes even here in USA .
    No one who has not gone through can feel the pain we feel …daily .

    Your poem speaks for all us women going through it for sure . You should get this published , ive never read one like this before , it is too good to just leave it on a blog , this should be read by the whole world .
    Have you written other poems ?
    Thank you for posting this gem

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