My Feudal Lord by Tehmina Durrani shows that there can be disastrous repercussions when a smart, attractive lady from a privileged upbringing tries to test the limitations of a male-oriented, conventional culture.
Tehmina Durrani, who was raised in the wealthy environment of Lahore high society and attended the same school as Benazir Bhutto, was born into one of Pakistan’s most prominent families. She was expected, like other women of her level, to marry a wealthy Muslim from a respected family, have a large brood, and live a sheltered life of air-conditioned pleasure. She continued to mingle in the best circles after marrying Mustafa Khar, one of Pakistan’s most prominent political heavyweights. She also learnt how to maintain the public façade of a stylish, well-educated wife and mother of four kids.
However, the most well-known pair in Pakistan’s fairytale relationship quickly soured in private. Mustafa Khar developed severe possessiveness and pathological jealousy, and he was able to isolate his wife from society. She endured fourteen years of suffering on her own.
A steep price was exacted by Tehmina when she decided to rebel: she signed away all financial support as a Muslim lady seeking a divorce and forfeited custody of her four children. She was also isolated from her social circle and was ostracised by her family.
She felt compelled to share her tale once her divorce was finalised. When Pakistani publishers refused to publish her work because of its contentious nature, she self-published it. In Pakistan, the book was a bombshell that rocked the country to its core. It was finally someone who could reconcile her conviction in women’s rights with her Islamic faith. The narrative of Tehmina, retold for western audiences, sheds light on the precarious situation of women in Muslim society.
The strange juxtaposition of the home and the terrace, the kitchen and the legislature, the bedroom brawl and the lynching mob can be found in Tehmina Durrani’s novel My Feudal Lord. It carefully dissects how the “domestic stuff” is a miniature version of the political power struggle. Both procedures involve pathologically manipulating the human psyche. In the following section we will go deeper into different themes that My Feudal Lord reflects.
Trauma in childhood
Childhood trauma is real. This is a crucial element of this biography. It frankly reveals the intricate nuances that, even as adults, keep us scarred knowingly or unconsciously.
Durrani explains this by weaving stories from her difficult upbringing. Her father, Ahmed Shah Durrani, who hails from a wealthy family has held a number of illustrious positions, chief among them Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan under General Yahya’s martial law. Her mother, Samina Hayat, is a member of the affluent Hayat family living on the northern fringe of Punjab. In exchange for their devoted service to the British colonial rulers, the aristocratic family received significant land grants from the British crown. Tehmina Durrani, a youngster with dark skin who joined this family in 1953, is Samina’s second child because she already had a daughter from her first marriage. She is Ahmed Shah Durrani’s first daughter.
Tehmina was an outcast in the family, especially among her lighter-skinned siblings who are proud of their Pathan heritage. Samina is reluctant to introduce Tehmina to friends and family because of her dark colour since she is already cautious that the father must not love Tehmina more than Rubina, her daughter from her first marriage. The story of the “ugly duckling” is repurposed in Tehmina’s early years to depict a wealthy family with racial ideals of beauty. Even as a baby, she claims that she does not recall ever receiving a hug or kiss from her mother when when she was a child.
On the other hand, the father is too distant, never expressing his affection, and never meddling in family matters. In this matriarchal household, the father returns home and gives his controlling wife a clear English account of his whole day.
Tehmina is given responsibility for caring for her mother’s expensive clothing. Years later, she can still feel the strain in her muscles from caring for her mother’s wardrobe and worrying about anything getting lost in the jewellery box or armoire. The oppressed Tehmina, who is constantly looking for her controlling mother’s approval, breathes here. Tehmina’s grandma adores her, but in a way that only serves to increase her hatred of her. To make her become someone she is not, she would give her cucumber pastes, lemons, fresh creams, and whitening agents.
She gets meningitis in the midst of all of this. Despite her remarkable recovery, this episode results in her being stigmatised as mentally unstable for the rest of her life. This is the experience Mustafa Khar would later exploit to con her into believing she was constantly dreaming because she had poor mental capacity.
Despite drawing a lot of sympathy from readers, the physical thrashing is too cliché and repetitious for the plot. The psychological trauma she suffered is what I find to be the most upsetting as a reader.
In the beginning, Durrani is drawn to Mustafa Khar. However, she is treated like a child immediately after the marriage. Her capacity for thought has been revoked. She is prohibited from reading the newspaper. She is invited to discussions where she is required to concur with the husband’s points of view. The abuse is not new to her, aside from the additional physical abuse, so she begins to play the obedient child and becomes reticent because Khar always gaslights her into a situation where people would make fun of her for jeopardising her previous relationship with Anees to remarry Mustafa Khar, a man who has already been married for four times.
Instances where Durrani tries to read the Koran differently are highlighted. He wants her to understand when he says that “woman is like a man’s land” because a feud only maintains his land as long as it remains useful to him, but she has another interpretation in her heart. She views the land as something that has to be developed and cared for, and she views this as the kind of duty that a man should show to a woman.
Many incidents point to her husband’s narcissistic characteristics. He wants her to consume an excessively fatty diet that makes her feel bloated all day long so that she loses her appeal to other guys. She is not permitted to go shopping alone. She has not been to the hairdresser in a long time because he adores her brown, knee-length hair more than anything.
She is left in the most extreme sexual turmoil because her past marriage is constantly used as a stick against her. She must portray a carnal hunger victim. She gets humiliated if she makes advances. She gets chastised for not exhibiting attention if she sits impassive. She will not be able to feel anything for herself, therefore she must respond as much as he desires.
Of course, the most harrowing scenario is when she is stripped off and made to repent to her mother for revealing Khar and Adila’s (her younger sister) affair as her imagination. After that night, Durrani says, she felt “naked” no matter how many layers of clothing she put on. To top it all off, he then proceeds to embrace her and tells her that because of the meningitis, she is in no way mentally strong. After this manipulation, Durrani embraces him and cries like a child.
The first time she breaks up with him, he becomes a wandering lover who lavishes her with attention on their vacation in Florida. The honeymoon is over shortly, so there will be no more candle-lit dinners or shopping sprees. It is only while Khar is incarcerated that she begins to interact with others and makes an effort to make her own decisions. After a few days of admiration and rejuvenation, she hears that she is a “hysterical woman” and her complaints are “nonsensical” when she finally manages to get her husband out of the house.
Political power and influence
The goal of political power is a crucial question that Durrani poses to her audience. She buys into Khar’s hero image as a public figure for a considerable amount of time. Durrani regards Mustafa as a man of honour when he claims that the reason for his public agitation toward Bhutto is because the latter has distanced himself from the average person and was surrounded by cronies and quislings.
Durrani joins Khar when he forms an alliance with India, which is treason and carries a death sentence, since he defends it as “Bhuttoism,” a form of diplomacy crucial to gaining control over the military. Durrani claims that because it “appeared” noble, this was still another argument in favour of supporting Khar. Over time, she comes to understand that this supposed “humanitarian cause” is more of a front. He had exchanged blows with the jail’s superintendent not to free other inmates but rather to solidify his position as the most powerful man. Benazir