My Feudal Lord is an autobiography of a woman that transcends the geographical, religious, political and societal context it is based in. Though it is the story of Tehmina Durrani, a member of the Pakistani elite society, set in the highly volatile political milieu of the 1970s, 80s, against the backdrop of a highly radical Islamic community – it is first and foremost the tale of a woman caught in a predominantly patriarchal world that is unfair to her because of her gender and makes her pay dearly for actions that she chooses of her free will.
Though being a Muslim does not help Tehmina’s inherent rebellious streak, her situation is exponentially compounded by her specific background – her rather complicated childhood and problematical relationship with her mother, her latent inferiority complexes, her need to prove her self as a lady befitting the highest echelons of the social pyramid, the tug of war between her hopeful heart and her strong mind, and the final straw – her abusive and traumatic marriage to Ghulam Mustafa Khar, the then Chief Minster and later Governor of Punjab, Pakistan.
Tehmina goes back and forth in time as she constructs the very painful narrative of the 13 years of her marriage in a feudal, woman-baiting society to none other than the Feudal Lord himself. Her silence breaking indictment of the curse that a woman’s life was in the post-colonial era in Pakistan is gruesome, bloody and highly graphical. A victim of domestic abuse – physical, financial, and emotional abuse, a victim of a repressive and racial social structure, a victim of the family need to “keep up” appearances for the sake of social stature, a victim of her own super ego that forces her to mould into the vile of the predominant social ethos, it is rather admiring that Tehmina finally gathers the courage to expose to the world the frailties of the veiled homes.
The book makes you shudder in disbelief at the schizophrenic Mustafa Khar – who is irrationally possessive, insanely aggressive and sick in his highly convenient interpretation of Islam to suit his whims and fancies. Your heart goes out to Tehmina as she tries time and again to break the shackles of marriage only to be each time placated for another chance, by Khar who would resort to every trick the male-dominated and oppressive community bestows him with – subtle manipulation, playing on her insecurities, blackmailing to kidnap her children and open threats of violence.
What is most endearing about Tehmina is that here is a woman against whom the worst profanities have been committed mostly in the name of Islam, yet she is not bitter against the religion. She embraces Islam understanding its true spirit and teachings. The subverted interpretation of the religion by fanatics for their own selfish interests has not disillusioned her. She has picked up the pieces of her life, learnt her lessons, and strives to work for the betterment of Muslim women. Now married to Shahbaz Sharif, brother of Nawaz Sharif, she has been reunited with her children whose custody she lost because of the divorce with Mustafa Khar.