The relationship between the groom and the bride in Usman Mukhtar’s novels is an increasingly familiar one, but it never descends to the level of melodrama common to many a marriage in modern society. It is a relationship that seems to mirror the shifting energies of Pakistani society as a whole, with traditional customs and social roles being discarded in favor of new more fluid concepts. In this respect the novel stands out as an exemplary work in English literature, in a field which is notoriously short on protagonists with complex characters.
Mina is a young widow who moves with her brother and sisters to join her uncle’s family in the new city of Multan. They soon realize, however, that their new home is neither comfortable nor financially stable, and that they will have to put up with an unhappy marriage if they want to keep the money coming. Aided by her sister’s knowledge of the familial financial situation, they draw up a plan to elope with the help of a well-meaning friend. Once they are married, however, Mina’s duties as a wife become less important than her desire to find a way to support her new family.
Soon enough, however, her Uncle Zafar puts his daughter under arrest for suspicion of involvement in the affair. Mina tries to defend herself, but ends up doing so only by agreeing to give up her dowry, which her family badly needs but cannot afford. Her marriage becomes a sham, and she decides to elope with her new husband. With the marriage finally consummated, the two families are reunited. But a year later, as the children begin to grow up, Mina realizes that her actions were wrong and that her Uncle Zafar was right all along.
This depiction of an arranged marriage within a socially acceptable framework provides the essential premise upon which Usman Mukhtar’s novels are based. It follows a straightforward plot, which eventually develops into an intriguing exploration of the nature of matrimony within Pakistan. The main character, Mina, is very typical of Pakistani women of the modern era. She is a caring and loving mother who loves her daughter. As a young woman, she has dreams of marriage and children; but after her marriage, those dreams become nonexistent. Instead, she clings to her husband, indulging him in every intimate moment and demanding undying loyalty from him.
Usman Mukhtar provides an attractive picture of the role of the traditional gender roles in this setting. The groom’s attitude towards his future wife is entirely predictable, even though the relationship between the two characters initially appears to be a loving and satisfying one. But as Mina’s marriage falls apart, she slowly discovers her true feelings for the groom, which are far more genuine than she had been led to believe. And when the couple eventually decide to get married, the novel gives us a rare glimpse of the newlyweds enjoying their newly found freedom. But as is often the case with contemporary marital relationships, the happy ending is only temporary.
The author’s subtle use of cultural references and a focus on the differing cultural expectations of Pakistani and Western women create a realistic setting that allows her audience to examine the ramifications of such progressive change. Although Mina’s story does not offer instruction on how to create a successful marriage, she presents a positive vision of what marriage means for women. And by the end of the story, she provides an optimistic outlook for both her soon to be ex-husband. But if you are looking for a story about a girl who comes from a conservative culture, and whose marriage ends happily, this book is not for you. However, if you are looking for an engaging, culturally-informed, and humane exploration of contemporary marriage, The Pirate’s Bastard is definitely a great read.