Female consciousness: A Study of Upstairs Wife
Upstairs Wife - a debut novel of Rafia Zakaria â€“ a Pakistani author, political philosopher and human rights activist is a gripping tale of polygamy which can be read as a critique on Islamic patriarchy. This novel partly a family saga, part memoir and part a chronicle of Pakistan’s history, set in a dry dusty chaotic city Karachi tells the sad story of Rafia’s paternal aunt Amina. Amina â€“ the central character was the first of her family to attend college who had to submit to an arranged marriage. Fifteen years later when Amina fails miserably to become a mother, her husband Sohail marries a new lady and splits his property between the two women. The childless Amina is given the upstairs apartment and the new wife is installed on the floor below. The once lively and ebullient aunt Amina descent into melancholy and bitterness. Amina feels especially aggrieved during the alternate weeks when Sohail lives with his other wife downstairs. Amina’s state as a half wife becomes a humiliating compromise for her family too. Amina’s family though devout Muslims consider polygamy scandalous cruel and disgracing. Rafia describes the Psychology of the women in the community who faulted Amina for her barrenness and showed greater sympathy for her husband â€“ ‘a self denying hero’ in their eyes. Amina’s miserable tale becomes only a single one from the innumerable tales of Rafia’s larger family history. The entire story is a memoir of Karachi through the eyes of its women. Rafia’s book raises several unaddressed questions. Though political questions are only hinted at by the author her novel remain deeply rooted in its social context. Muslim women faces a variety of forms of oppression as their belonging to Islam a culture and religion. The anti female concept of Islamic culture which keeps women passive, silent and obedient is voiced aloud in Upstairs wife.
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