A widow is just a widow. No, she is not a woman, that creature of flesh and blood.


Jo hona tha so ho gaya, abb koi rona dhona naheen, chup raho. 

(Be quiet, be quiet now, I am telling you be quiet. Whatever has happened has happened. Now it’s over. Now be silent.)

The man was telling [or shouting] in a gathering, mainly consisting of women. Was he speaking about some family dispute, property loss or marital skirmish? No. He was speaking to a woman.
Sorry widow.  

A widow is just a widow. No, she is not a woman, that creature of flesh and blood.

being of aspirations, of fancy, of  imagination. She is just a mere shadow of her former self. Discussing the definition further would bring confusion; hence let us give it a burial here. A quiet one at that. 

mourning widow Measure for Measure: Mourning  for a Widow

The ways of mourning have changed or remained the same?  And the ways of consoling the suffering people?  Should they undergo some change, too? May be a big change. 
There she was, surrounded by women.  

I sat mute and dumb, as that  male relative  was speaking to her, asking her to shut up, just shut up.  

Innocent face, washed by tears, just like you find  a cute kid’s face smeared  with mud after a wish fulfilling play. The play was over for her.   

People were saying all kinds of things. 

Now try to be happy, happy for the sake of your children, this is fate, what else can you do now? [What else…hmm..really? Guys, can she remarry, after her iddah? ] Just have patience, sabr , sabr. There were some sane voices too, some reasonable whispers.  And some irrational, foolish noises sparking irritation. Despite the consolations, some empty, some sincere, the thick air of gloom sat there. Perhaps it too had got widowed. 

How can it come so easy for the mourners? A woman had lost her whole world. Her whole world. Her children? They won’t ever know what the love and cool shade of a father figure is.  In all probability she would be a single mother, from now onwards. 

People [mostly] were trying to console her in their own individual ways, some crying and weeping with her, others not quite so. Some gentlewomen[like some gentlemen] were telling the widow how she will miss the loving words of her husband now, how his soothing presence will no more be hers, while describing sheepishly how their own husbands can’t remain separated from them even for a few days , when they go for the annual trip to their mother’s home. 

funeral 061110 7 Measure for Measure: Mourning  for a Widow

Does cruelty mean beating a helpless lonely man with an iron rod? No, it means to derive pleasure out of the vulnerability of another human being. I could not bear to sit near her for long and came out. 

I tried glancing around. There were women everywhere mostly. Some had come in their finery and bright clothes, making it seem like it was an occasion, to dress up and show off;  at a funeral. Mobile phones were ringing nonstop. Women, men were taking out the glamorous gadgets out of their pockets /purses, to chat. I could hear them. One was asking her kids to eat well and another was telling her friend about their common fashion designer’s new outlet. Some older ladies were clustered together, trying to disseminate the issue the Ladies Style. Actually, (itwas revealed to me in hushed whispers that..) it was that ‘evil’ widow herself who cau77sed her husband’s untimely death.  She used to be quite angry with her husband for his absences.

She gave lots of, ‘tension’ to him, one said.  A woman, who doesn’t respect her husband, goes widow; a Ma-in law was as firm in her conviction as some good people are about the Vedic origins of an areoplane. It was written in her fate, in the fate of her family. This was aunt Faiza speaking, shaking her head in her unique style, from left to right and then yes, from right to left. She began explaining and I listened in sheer horror. In her [the fresh widow’s] family, women get widowed early, ill fated gals, they all are, she was firm. She had conveyed  the widowing tendency of these women to her Ma-in law and particularly asked to not marry in that family. She seemed proud to declare these forever  unverified truths.  Not to mention that arrangements were made and seen to be made by some well wishers, for these comments to reach the ears of the widow.

Measure for Measure: Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with that judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure you meet, it shall be measured unto you again.(Matthew 7:1-2)

Our sensitivities in general have become blunt. Don’t we usually have dinner when Prime Time news horror of violence is being dished out along with Dal Makhni and Chicken butter masala?  We gulp and slurp amid the everyday soap operas of on screen gory images of bloodied flesh; flashing from every corner of the world, where someone’s loved one is/are being ambushed. Unfortunate. 

image001 Measure for Measure: Mourning  for a Widow

Nevertheless this particular hoard of mourners needed to be educated. Their mourning etiquettes need a serious overhaul. 

Who knows better than me?  Or say, may be I know a few things, been there and done that! 

Me who has been consoled for the passing away of two of my children especially for my thirteen year old beautiful daughter, Sanaa’ a few years ago.  People said good things mostly; few tried to belittle the sorrow, saying its nothing, and that you will forget her soon. Forget?  

One lives with a child’s death. But people say what they say. The only option is to bear but can’t afford to grin! I was told a myriad things. I was called the most unfortunate [Yes, I was.] I was told how I shall miss the playful fights between the siblings now that only one among the two remains.   

That was true but must truth be spoken all the time???  

I survived. I dealt with taunts, with insinuations about the unfortunate mother too being ill-omened, for the new born children. People avoided me. My closest of relations behaved this way and came back to see me only when my second daughter was born two years after the demise of the first one.  

The woman called widow too is stamped with this most unfortunate of labels, of being ill-omened.

While a widow is called unfortunate, condemned forever; a widower is consoled and comforted in measures unbelievable.  Not to mention urging almost forcing him to marry quick and fast. It indeed is not Measure for Measure.  Now who cares if we have been asked by our Prophet Muhammad PBUH to never delay a widow’s marriage, when a suitable match is found. I come back to the widow. 

widow remarriage Measure for Measure: Mourning  for a Widow

Solitary figure, solemn, reticent, perhaps reflecting, on the bewildering Ways of the World. She didn’t yet know that from now onwards, most women would resent her being. They will not allow her near a bride, fearing her ill fate might get rubbed on her. What a murder women commit of a woman!  

She would be shunned at gatherings, pitying looks will be cast in her direction, and women would doubt her and won’t allow their men to talk to her, even if for some extreme necessity. 

Maybe she would take their husband away? Hmm…How insulting!  Yes all these things happen and maybe  much more than what I narrate here. 

Perhaps this Widow+Woman expression is what that miserable widowed wife of Walt Whitman’s Captain was mumbling under her breath,

O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack,
 Here Captain! Dear father!
 This arm beneath your head!
  It is some dream that on the deck,

  You’ve fallen cold and dead

Cold and dead, was not just her husband.  

Our sensibilities, our sensitivities, our sympathies, our compassion, our kindliness, our understanding, all lie dead when a woman goes widow. 

By: Asma Anjum Khan
Image Source: 1, 2, 3, 4

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