THE MODERN CINDERELLA (an old article in The Review.. Dawn)

The news of Rubina’s divorce was sad, but I knew my college friend too well to be surprised. She was a day dreamer and never tired of talking about her ideal, whom she was going to find somewhere and some day (and perhaps somehow), tie the nuptial knot and live happily with, ever after. After university was over, she turned down many good proposals because the man demanding her hand did not match her ideal. But after her parents had had enough of her idealistic views, they decided to put their foot down.

Rubina reluctantly had to succumb to their pressure and consent to the proposal of Sajid. He was an average looking man, who lived in an average house and had an average income. But Rubina’s parents felt he had a bright future as he was well qualified and very hard working. Rubina just couldn’t compromise with her marriage and the loss of her ideal, holding a grudge in her inner heart against Sajid, for proposing and marrying her. All his efforts to please her and lead a normal married life went in vain. The sad end was inevitable!

As children all of us have heard the tale of Cinderella. We have read it out to our children when we became mothers and some of us may have told it to their grandchildren. The tale holds a universal charm and no one can resist falling in love with Cinderella, the beautiful but oppressed girl, who was abused and maltreated by her stepmother and scorned by her step sisters.

Unhappy because she had been left behind, while her stepsisters happily proceeded to the ball (where the Prince was about to chose his bride), Cinderella was helped by her fairy god-mother. Her rags were transformed into a beautiful gown, a pumpkin into a carriage and rats into horses. She went to the ball looking and feeling like a princess and immediately won the heart of the Prince. Whenever we read the fairy tale we sympathize with her and feel happy and relieved when in the end of the story she has the final laugh.

The modern Cinderella is just the opposite of the legendary Cinderella. The temperament of the simple girl, who lost her glass slipper in her hurry to reach home before the fairy god-mother’s charm expired, is nowhere to be found now. Instead of the Prince Charming, who combed the city in search of the beautiful young owner of the lost slipper, and who he had decided to marry, our modern Cinderella has taken just the opposite role!

The ideal sherwani has taken the place of the delicate slipper and the modern lass is in quest of her Prince Charming who will fit into it. Her requirements are unrealistic and sometimes bizarre! She is in search of a tall, broad, dashing young man who has charming manners, an income exceeding the six digit number, lives in a sprawling mansion and drives the latest model of aToyotaor Honda Accord (or better still a BMW). When she finds the Prince Charming who fits into her imaginary sherwani, she ties the knot with him hoping to live happily ever after.

There are times when the modern Cinderella tires or is disheartened because her search is not successful. Sometimes she has to give in to family pressure and is forced to soften her stance, let go of some of the qualities of her ideal Prince and settle for a bit less. Although the ideal sherwani does not fit the Prince properly, she chooses to look away. But in her inner heart she holds a deep grudge against life (and her spouse), and this sense of disappointment prevents her from enjoying the pleasures life gives her. Often her marriage (which she considers a compromise) is not as successful as Cinderella once dreamt about and in her frustration she ends it on the pettiest of pretext (one of the reasons why we see a rising ratio of broken or unsuccessful marriage in our society).

What our modern Cinderella fails to realize is that no one is perfect in this World and the Prince Charming she is searching for,  only exists in fairy tales. But since life is not a fairy tale there is nothing like an “ideal” or “they lived happily ever after”! Though we are free to dream, we should realize that all our dreams can not come true. Many compromises have to be made in a married life and many flaws of a spouse have to be overlooked. A successful life is not one in which we get whatever we desire or dream of, but one in which we make the most of all that which life gives us!

The key to a content and happy marriage is to make the most of our Prince-not-so-Charming’s best traits and adjusting to his short comings and realizing the fact that in his turn he is also doing the same!  



                    Nearly two decades have past since that eventful day; but even today I can vividly recall the minutest details! I was coming back home (to Karachi from Dhaka) and she had come to the airport to bid me farewell. Those moments are firmly imprinted in my memory, her beautiful face looking drawn and exhausted; and her lips moving silently, as if in an intense prayer. After embracing her one last time, I tore myself away from her, and trying to hide my tears, turned to enter the departure lounge. I remember looking back over my shoulders after every few steps, just to catch one last glimpse of her. Just the knowledge that she was there and praying for me, was in itself a great solace!

                When I was married in 1970, it was just that I had migrated from one part of Pakistan to another, i.e. from Dhaka (East Pakistan) to Karachi (West Pakistan). But as destiny would have it, only after a year, Bangladesh was created and I found myself a foreigner in the city I was born in, had spent my childhood days and my school and college life; the city which I loved dearly.

                  With the passage of time, requirements of passport and visa, the ever rising cost of traveling with a growing family and my commitment to my children’s education, made my visits to my parents further and further years apart.

               On that particular occasion, I had gone to Dhaka to visit my ailing father and due to some personal circumstances my visit was a very tumultuous one. And the last night of my stay was particularly heart breaking! I could take the tension no more and broke down in sobs in my mother’s arms. My marriage was on the rocks and I could easily read the writing on the wall. And Ammi, (to whom physical touch simply did not come easily), just held me gently and lovingly murmured soothing words in my ears. And inspite of the heartbreak and the fear of the unknown, my taut nerves calmed down for a while and I dozed off in her loving arms.

            With a heavy heart, I boarded the aircraft trying to keep the thrill of her touch alive! Since my childhood days, it had always been a precious and cherishable moment, whenever Ammi hugged me tightly to her bosom or kissed me lovingly.

            It was not that she did not love me or my siblings! Ammi was a very caring mother in every way, but she was just different from others in every thing, trivial or important. If we go by the institutional standards, she was not educated, but her insatiable thirst for reading, gave her the vision and knowledge most woman of her generation lacked. A staunch Muslim she taught her children to have a firm faith in Allah! A fierce patriot, she had instilled in us a deep love for Pakistan, a love which keeps me restless to this day!

          Popular equally among her family and in-laws, Ammi’s wise and practical advice was sought and respected by all the people around her. She was a perfect home- maker as well as a very social person, juggling her time between her children, home and her social commitments.

           A few weeks after my return, the inevitable happened. My marriage, which had been shaky for years, ended in a divorce. Though I was shattered and heart broken, somehow that last night in Ammi’s arms helped me face this harsh stage of life bravely. I took my grief with pride, my head held high, refusing to give in to self pity (or allowing anyone else to pity me!). I must acknowledge that my children and family gave me unquestioning support which made that stage of life bearable. 

              After the initial pain had died down, I resolved to start my life all over again. Thinking that the worst was over, I started picking bits and pieces of my broken life. Though outwardly I tried to appear calm, I was just waiting for Ammi to come to Karachi. I could show my raw emotions and my anguish only to my mother, shed my tears hiding in her loving bosom!

          And then the tsunami came crashing down upon me!

          The innocent sounding ring of the phone bell on that eventful morning on the second day of Eid, brought devastating news from Dhaka. Ammi, who had talked to me only the day before, had consoled me with the news that she was coming to Karachi the following week, had past away peacefully in her sleep! All her life she had loved to be different, and in death too, she had chosen to stand apart from others. No serious illness, no doctors, no rushing to the hospital! No, she would have none of these! She had gone to bed as usual (the Eid Day) and just refused to get up in the morning.

               And never in my life had I needed her more! All the tears that remained to be shed, the anguish that remained to be expressed, just died down deep inside me.

            Memories of that day are like a hazy nightmare! Friends and relatives were surrounding me, offering their condolences but I just sat there wordless, numb with pain and trying to fathom the cruel reality. A dull throbbing pain kept tearing my heart to pieces, my eyes burning, but the tears just refusing to come!

            How can you let go of someone so dear to your heart… let go without even saying goodbye? When you live abroad away from people who are an integral part of your life, how can you even say whether you will ever see those beloved faces again? For months, I was overwhelmed with grief, as memories of that last night in her arms tugged at my heart and kept me awake and restless at nights. Ah! Only had I known that it was the final goodbye, I would have clung closer to her that night and not wasted even one of those precious moments in sleep!