Reham Khan Chapter 1

I have just finished reading the first chapter of Reeham Khan’s book. The strong feminist part of me is already impressed that a lady has picked up the pen and has put her experiences down. I firmly believe that we as nation need more authors like Tahmina, Malala, Benazir and Reeham seems to have followed the same tradition of writing down the personal experience. Nonetheless the same feminist part of me encourages me to carry out an impartial analysis of the script. At least in first chapter I couldn’t find any honest reflections that may cover the whole scope of personal and family life. The first chapter seems to be written along the lines that I was a perfect child,had perfect siblings, had perfect parents, had perfect grandparents and there are loads and loads of family traditions and histories that I am extremely proud of. These reasons appear to be ranging in the form of some strange relationships that she has tried to establish of her forefathers with famous knight of Arab world and Islamic history Mr Khalid Bin Waleed (in Arabic hazrat means Mr) and in turn with Prophet of Islam (PBUH); to her grandparents’ faithfulness with British Raj in the war against Sikhs. In entire chapter there is not a single sentence or line of reflection of any imperfection or on rather possible negative side that is part and parcel of human life. Let’s see how far this perfectionism looms ahead in book.
And yes one more thing the main villain in first chapter is a Consultant Psychiatrist 😀.

 

Reham Khan Chapter 2

The second chapter of Reeham Khan’s book focuses on the account of writer’s adolescence. As you would expect in a biography (that this seems to be one), the entire focus is on one personality i.e. Reeham Khan herself. Nonetheless generally in biographies setting the scenes, establishing the context and in depth introduction of characters is a norm; the difference in this book is that the writer doesn’t seem to be bothered taking interest in any of them. The entire focus of writer is on I, mine, me. The young girl from privileged background seems to be in a rather traditional set up. Insistently as per her repeat description everything is perfect or nearly perfect, therefore she doesn’t attempt to reflect on any of parents’ limitations or cultural factors that contributed or determined about sex education in adolescent and describes that she would take control and would find relevant books and teach herself for example as a child and young adult she had been parenting herself, in her words by books like “how to talk to your child about sex” from library and then teach other students in her class that involved showing them a condom on one occasion taken from cupboard of dad who is a doctor. The characters are not introduced generally as who they are or what their background is, rather what they meant for the author. The characters whether being fellow students, teachers, National celebrities or tuck shop owners in the school are all having a unique personalised image and meaning for author and that is the the final and ultimate judgment about them. Whether this be a friend Nadia, teacher Miss Chand Rehman or a national celebrity Marina Khan, all seemed to have been approached by what they meant for author and how they must have treated or behaved towards author in certain points and periods of time. Otherwise whether this be a close friend or an experienced teacher: they are judged there and then and are provided certificates of acceptance and rejection. On a very positive side there are some bold strokes and expressions in which author has shared her personal boundaries being violated as a child star and being inappropriately kissed on lips by an adult; an experience that changed her life and she left career in music and addressing some stigma around menstruation that was prevalent in an orthodox society and rather apparently family with stringent values around this that she had been a part of. Fellow students, teachers, staff members all had an utmost responsibility to win validation from RK and otherwise they would be dismissed immediately. The chapter ends by putting blame of everything on Zia Ul Haq the military dictator of 80s.

 

Reham Khan book 3/30
Third chapter unfolds next phase of author’s life. It appears that this is how author has approached the book i.e. one chapter one phase that makes the book quite easy to read as she finishes and concludes the topic after describing what did that phase meant for her. It starts with little background and then a character sketch of her first husband Mr Ijaz Rehman, who is doctor, a Psychiatrist based in Pakistan at that time. Interestingly the main two features that have been chosen to describe the person are his thin, lean looks and his profession. The author continues her description of belonging to this perfect family and offers no reflections that how the middle class background, economic situation and rather strange choices of parents led to the decision of getting an 18 year’s old married to her first cousin who is almost twice her age and had no emotional connection or even prior personal introduction to her. Instead the ‘perfect family’ metaphor has continued in description and the entire responsibility is shifted on two factors one that Pakistan won the 1992 Cricket World Cup and their was an air of grandiosity in the decision making process of parents on that spur of moment and secondly it was the outcome of a special prayer (in her words) called ‘Istikhara’. There is no reflection on why did a doctor father not consider the genetic implications of cousin marriage, why parents didn’t pay attention to her changed body language and rapid weight loss that she talks about and why did they chose a family that as per author’s own description was infamous among all relatives for reasons of rude and arrogant behaviour of family’s head and a number of other factors. It is tragic and sad to read the attempts that a 34 years’ old is making towards an 18 years’ old to consummate without developing any emotional connection and I think the author has tackled the subject carefully in a sensitive manner. The overall feeling this chapter generates is that of sadness and loss. Nonetheless the perfect family and perfect self approach has continued as before, author writes “I was 18, the most popular girl in college, and was no economic burden on my parents. But still I felt that he was the best I deserved.”

 

Chapter 4/30 of Reham Khan’s book covers the next phase of her life. It’s the time period in her life between her getting married and some years after that. I don’t know what the rest of chapters bring but it is extremely sad and tragic to read this one. This account unveils what is a common problem in married lives across the globe and cultures i.e. domestic violence. However it throws light on certain aspects of this abuse that is specific to Pakistani culture and unfortunately is extremely common. The character sketch of Ijaz Rehman is taking more vivid and clearer shape here. He is described by author as a psychopathic, tyrannical, controlling, alcoholic who has no sense of respect and honour for his spouse or family and had been a constant source of verbal, psychological and emotional abuse for her that later changed to hostility and violence as well. Although IR is described as functioning successfully in society and having some academic aims and achievements but the same person at home is described as a stringent penny pincher who is not willing to spare a few quids for family including the new born son. The level of patience and tolerance is so low that the person is not able to tolerate the crying of a new born for a minute and almost choked baby to death by pushing excessive liquid medicinal preparation in his mouth that needed calling emergency services. The couple however remains together and there is no confrontation from RK, all what she is trying to do is to conform to expected standards and be the ideal wife but there is not a slightest degree of remorse, regret or even a smile offered in return. In the same chapter the much missed reflections have also emerged for first time in the book for example that it was me who let the tyranny continued. It was me who didn’t fight back. But it is again partial as although the mother has been described to be visiting and being upset on seeing the awkward family script and set up but even at that time the mother has not been criticised for making a wrong decision of pushing the daughter into that hell but is politely been freed from all responsibility for being of a polite and sensitive nature. Overall the chapter has common references directly or indirectly for many Pakistani families. Though an over generalisation would be rather unrealistic for Mr IR having alcoholism as a major problem apparently that is not common in Pakistani society.

Reham Khan 5/30
The next phase of author’s life is continuation in a very abusive relationship with IR but choosing to have another kid with the same person. The author confirms that she planned her first two pregnancies and had an unfortunate miscarriage in case of third one that was unplanned. The six to eight years’ time period discussed in this chapter is mainly involving a six months stay in Western Australia (Perth), having a second baby (a girl) and buying a new house on mutual mortgage and ownership with IR. For a Western reader it might be surprising that how a woman is sharing the roof, benefiting from finances, sharing the bed, undergoing intimacy and having kids with a person whilst having zero emotional connectedness with him and consistently considering him a an alien, psychopathic third party different from herself, her family and her own kids. However there is no surprise or even a slightest element of unusualness for a Pakistani reader where arranged marriages are a norm and such outcomes are almost a rule than exception. The perfect self of author having a perfect family has got further addition in this chapter by two perfect kids who are having an imperfect father that has never been accepted as a true emotional partner or a soulmate but still is accepted as the person to have kids with. It’s unclear why the constant psychological, emotional, verbal and physical abuse of child and that of author is never brought to attention of anybody including any institutions that are there to help. In the mean time some change in identity has been described so is the identification. Once in Australia the author is identifying herself as a British resident missing polite, soft spoken British dialect in particular the word “love”. Identification with British female role models including late princess Diana and music band Spice girls has been expressed. Perth reminds author of Pakistan as it is full of rough and inconsiderate people. It’s tragic to read the treatment a young growing boy is receiving through hands of his father, nonetheless the alcoholic PDP(Phuphi da putter (first cousin: son of paternal aunt)” is able to perform socially and professionally, bringing constant supply of funds to manage home, buying properties and fulfil some personal dreams. There is still absolutely no reflection on role of parents on the rather awkward decision of making a mismatch but perfect parents presentation has continued.

Reham Khan 6/30
Chapter six is basically continuation of accounts of author receiving all kinds of abuse by hands of her first husband IR. The phase of life described is the one in which author chooses to have a third baby (a girl this time) with the same person for some strange reasons described by author in following words. “As his depression grew and he became almost docile, I announced to him that I would like to have another child to cement our marriage and start afresh, and quickly fell pregnant once more. By January, Ijaz had moved us into a beautiful converted barn in a place called Thornton Curtis, North Lincolnshire.” Husband doesn’t take interest in delivery and as per author is sent home by her but author later writes. “The midwife was hovering nearby and later remarked sarcastically, “Dr Rehman left last night with grey sideburns and came back with perfectly brown tinted ones for the family photos!”
On one hand making a decision to have a baby to cement the relationship the author is also writing about some inner conflicts for example “I realised I’d been fed a certain narrative: broken homes are devastating and the purpose of life is to serve the husband’s every need. The silent rebellion was taking root. The thought of raising another girl in this oppressive environment was deeply disturbing. I was in constant conflict with myself.”

The story moves ahead and author is asked to move to Pakistan. Although the author describes IR as failing on many fronts including financial front but it’s interesting to read that he was able to buy house in “Chack Shahzad” an area in Islamabad (Pakistan) where people are keen to buy farm houses and buy a five bedroom detached house in England too. IR has ordered to move entire family to Pakistan, this provides author some freedom from him, enables her to make some new friends and in her words also enables her to have some quality time with her kids away from an atmosphere and environment of fear, threats and violence by their father. The author describes herself as a spiritual person. “Throughout my trials, I found the strength I needed to fight through prayer. After this escalation in violence, I started praying even more.”. Some other characters are introduced mostly people living in close vicinity. Finally there is a stark discrepancy in accounts of author when it comes to addressing the abuse that her sister in facing in her home compared to her own. It is described as
“ I had decided that I would not let my sister live in an abusive environment any longer. Her husband and mother-in-law had kicked her to the floor in front of the servants. Sweety’s eldest son was at the university. The middle one was completing his O-levels at the time. I knew I had to take a stand for her but no one in the family supported my stance.”. By the end of chapter the author describes that she is almost finalising her decision to have a separation from her husband IR.

 

Reeham Khan 7/30
Seventh chapter of RK’s book has the theme of her divorce and then pursuit of an independent life against all odds that she faced, accepting and fulfilling responsibility for three kids. In my opinion regardless of what her background or future may be this chapter highlights and covers a number of cultural stigmas and unfortunate treatments that a woman faces after being divorced. Some aspects are universal and not culture specific whilst other are specific to Pakistani culture and communities as perceived by the author. She talks about those stigmas, describes fighting and standing against them and takes pride in her struggle and efforts that she underwent in pursuit of her professional development and financial independence. It’s not journey of a well known journalist Reeham Khan as she is perceived now after being known for various reasons but the journey of a divorcee, mother of three, who has never interacted with local communities, has visited a job centre for first time and has been trying to attain some financial achievement that is completely new to her. The author pats herself on the back when she is able to find fist job, negotiate the first salary package and deal with some challenging alpha characters both males and female during the course of this journey. She mentions but doesn’t complain that her ideal family didn’t support her and has some regrets too that she she still had been a bit sympathetic towards her ex-husband when it came to settling some financial deals, a choice that was used in later life against her for legal reasons whilst they were initially approached for sake of politeness and sympathy.

 

Reeham Khan 8/30
Chapter 8 of Reeham’s book is just continuation of her previously introduced topic i.e. gradual career development, bringing up kids without their father and of course learning from life experience and social observation. Being a reader I think the entire chapter could have been avoided as it doesn’t provide much information except for sharing personal experiences in family and professional life that have very unique meanings for the author. I won’t call it unnecessary but it is superfluous. At times it becomes rather painful to read the continuous repetition of “I”, “my”, “me”,”mine”, again and again and yet again. The media related job has brought author to do a legal program in a local TV channel that introduces her to legal issues of all sorts including those that are related to human right to immigrants and local immigrant communities. In very beginning of career the author is provided an opportunity to work with legal teams including those law firms that have interest in Asian communities’ accident claims and as a result she gets opportunity to do some advertisements with famous people like Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan and Pakistani cricketer Shahid Afridi (this is mentioned in last chapter). Interestingly the guys are handed over the certificates of excellent (SRK) and reasonably good (SA) in same cross sectional brief interactions. Although it’s pleasant to read the achievements of a single mother in terms of personal, professional, academic and family growth, but at the same time it is very difficult to understand that on what grounds and in which capacity the authors is making constant criticism and judgements on people and departments especially UK Home office as no background information or declaration is made about the reasons to believe that why the reader must agree with the author without confirming the authenticity of claims or opinions that seem to be expressed quite boldly in a rather candid manner. The perfect family metaphor is continuing and children seem to have been incorporated into a perfect self and perfect parenting framework. There is a lot of emphasis what is portrayed as ‘ hardships’ faced without slightest degree of reflections that the primary foundations of her own self and that of kids were initiated and maintained in the same home setup where she benefited till children were grown enough to have some independent existence and she was able to get British Nationality that indirectly means ability to stay in country, to benefit from public agencies, have citizen rights and pursue a career. Ijaz ex-husband is all, truly, completely and utterly bad though he seemed to have followed the same very struggling and progressive trajectory of a foreign qualified doctor gradually progressing from a junior doctor place up to achieving a consultant position and perhaps subsequently an M.D. from America too. But that struggle or his achievements are all apparently the part of same evil and same nothingness for the author hence have not been even slightly touched upon. On a funny note it seems good that he had different profession from her otherwise there was a strong possibility that author could have claimed the credit of his academic and professional achievements too.

 

Reeham Khan 9/30
Chapter 9 has nothing much to offer in terms of anything new in author’s life or any major developments that she had been through. It however is a continuation of personal accounts, personal choices, personal decisions and personal accomplishments in professional domains. As in previous chapter the author continues to express opinions about nearly everything that she is coming across in life and how she has chosen to tackle them. She takes pride on making wise decisions, looking after and raising perfect kids and stepping up further on professional and property ladder. A constant comparison and commentary has continued about the ex-husband IR who is used sometimes as a negative male stereotype and generalised to all males. She had one offer of marriage and asked the man to visit UK from Pakistan but very quickly dismissed him realising that she is altogether a different person and there was no room for this man in her life. Though written as personal experiences but the chapter throws light on some very important issues of the experiences of a single mother or what a married professional working in a Western society experiences from time to time including difficulties, challenges, discriminations, extra/additional responsibilities and roles, misogyny, financial disadvantages, financial exploitation in name of child care, advances from males and inability to make use of public benefit system that is one of most abused system by people who exploit it rathe leaving it for those who truly need it. Some personal statements throw light on author’s taste as she dislike men but would find love in a dog. It’s not faithfulness sought in animal it’s rather love as described by her. Author is able to adjust and fight back if treated unfairly or exploited for any reason at work and takes pride in passing on principle based, truthful and honest values to kids in their formative years.

 

Reham Khan 10/30
Chapter 10 of this book is again in my opinion a superfluous chapter. It is continuation of more in depth personal account and a very in depth account of wheat author concludes as her culture and background. On one hand it’s appreciable to read the personal account of her background that she is offering to readers but at the same time it comes with same attitude of “I”, “my”,”me”,”mine” air that is prevalent throughout the book. It appears that the author is mainly replying on her memory, observation as a child and information received from previous generations to describe in detail and great length who parents, grandparents, great grandparents and great great grandparents were. As expected and learnt from previous chapters they were all the symbolism and continuation of same “perfection” that is part and parcel of her own self and her family except for PDP (Dr Ijaz Rehman). What she describes as “her culture”is the culture within the family and interactions that various family members have among themselves. It’s apparent the author doesn’t attempt to approach culture or cultural understanding from a sociological point of view, but it is all about what it meant for her. It’s like saying that “I am offering you my understanding of my culture and background and I would expect you to remember that before you make any impression about me. Remember I am from a very religious, high achiever and committed family and cultural background”. All this discussion on background has come to light when the author has lost her father. Obviously it’s one of most tragic moments of her life as it would be for a daughter who is having a loving, caring and gentle father, with whom she couldn’t pass much time. The dad’s little girl is crying and moaning on the great loss for her. On a completely separate note having no relationship with the rest of chapter, in the beginning the author has described attending two social meetings with ex military dictator of Pakistan Pervaiz Musharraf, who is described as drunk and intoxicated with alcohol trying to sing with famous singer Hamid Ali Khan and having casual meeting with her wife too who has a regal air to her. The author concludes that she appreciated her decision not to attend Pakistani community gathering and it reenforced her disliking of such politically informed gatherings for a number of reasons.