“Confront the dark parts of yourself and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing.” (August Wilson)
She might not be the wealthiest, the most famous or the most influential woman. However, she is an inspiration to all the women out there. In these times, when the ‘weaker’ gender in our country is forced to sell her body to earn a living, Nazeeran Begum refused to give in. To the eyes of a casual observer, she might appear as another housemaid, dusting off dirt and cleaning up the mess created by other people. But in her own life, she cleaned up the mess that her family had created and dusted off the dirt of despair from her shoulder to move on in life. She mustered all her leftover courage and decided to nurture it even in the darkest of times to help her gain a new life.
Nazeeran Begum’s humility can make anyone mindful of one’s own attitude. She has a very strong Punjabi accent but replies ‘Walaikum Assalam’ as properly as any Arab would. She does not sit on the couch. Instead, she chooses to settle down on the floor cushion. “These couches and chairs make people lazy, and I need my strength – can’t afford old age, you know,” she remarks at the shiny, wooden furniture. She is always clad in her white Chaddar (a traditional long piece of cloth) with silver embroidery, unravelling from many corners now, and a clean lawn suit. Along with her little black pouch for keeping her bus fare, she carries a bag of clothes wherever she goes.
Her problems in life started quite early – she was only nine years old, when her mother died. “I belonged to a rich family back in Rajanpur, my village in Dera Ghazi Khan. My father was a Zameendar (landlord) and remarried after my mother’s death. The stepmother was not a surprise at all. She kept my father drunk and her sons, my half brothers, took over the property. The beginning of my sorrows were triggered when my father died. I was twenty years old then,” she tells. She wipes off her tears and bravely tells how she denied all the urges to cut her wrists or to drink poison. Nazeeran Begum has always been a devout Muslim and believes that it is a sin to commit suicide. She was then forced to marry a farmer who used to work in her father’s fields. He was a compulsive gambler and married Nazeeran for money. When her step brothers took everything, her husband beat her and locked her in a room. “Things got worse when I got pregnant; I had twins – a girl and a boy,” she adds somberly.
Her baby girl was taken away by her husband, who sold her for a mere amount of five thousand. According to Nazeeran Begum, that was the worst day of her life. But even that incident didn’t break her spirits; she worked untiringly in the fields, carried manure, reared cattle and raised a son on her own. Although she was illiterate, she managed to get her son admitted in a school. Her husband mostly came home drunk and hit her with anything he found. After twenty years of her marriage, her husband came home one night and divorced her. “He was drunk and had lost all of his senses. He threw me out and locked the door behind me. I stayed up all night for him to come out the next day, but there was nothing left for me. I was divorced. My son refused to leave with me,” she laments.
At that point, when Nazeeran had nowhere to go, no place to hide and her clothes were tattered and torn, her old neighbour, who knew Nazeeran before marriage, took her into her own house. Both of them left Rajanpur and came to Karachi. They resided there in the little huts underneath the pulls with snake charmers. Nazeeran puts her hands over her ears to express her utmost disgust regarding those initial days. She started working as a housemaid, commonly known as a Masi in Karachi. “I was determined to earn Rizq-e-Halal. I never went for any illegitimate means of earning money. Many women, who lived in the huts near mine, were involved in prostitution and smuggling, but I never supported the idea of selling my flesh to anyone,” she states boldly. “The primary reason was my faith in Allah (swt). I had enough stamina to cling onto my religion even during those times.”
When Nazeeran Begum earned enough money, she moved out of that hut to a decent, rented quarter in Shah Faisal Colony. She started selling undergarments, socks and handkerchiefs, too, for extra money. “Working in different households meant interaction with all sorts of people. I started socializing. I met many poor women like me. Since I had to look after myself only, I began saving a lot. I progressed onto selling fabric, but at the same time, I did not stop my cleaning business either,” she says.
“I met several women in my new neighborhood, who were living hand-to-mouth and worked extra hours like me to earn a living. That was the time when I started collecting Zakat, in order to buy sewing machines for those women, so that they could start a new business for earning more,” tells Nazeeran. Her fabrics business was doing well – she earned enough to buy a small quarter of her own in Bakhtawar Goth.
“I have started looking after girls, who are either turned out of their houses or divorced, just like me. I teach them sewing and cleaning, so that they do not go for illicit means to earn bread and butter. It’s for my daughter I lost once,” she pauses and starts weeping for the first time during the conversation.
Beaten, torn down, driven out of house, once stranded on the streets, harassed by snake charmers and bereaved of her own children and father’s property, Nazeeran now lives in a house of her own and has a stall at Erum Centre, where she sells fabrics. She not only brought herself out of darkness but also illuminated the lives of many women like her. She is the living example of courage, hope and faith. However, most importantly, she is a perfect example of a woman, who never compromised her self-respect, honour and dignity for the sake of money. Nazeeran dedicates her life to her lost daughter, whom she hopes to meet in Jannah.