By Dr. Asir Ajmal
I was in the midst of developing an interdisciplinary course on Culture and Psychology at GCU Lahore, Pakistan.. Instead of just looking at things like intelligence or emotion across culture, I wanted this course to go deeper and be closer to real life. As I was looking for material on Literature and Psychology, I discovered an Urdu short story called Tikon (The Triangle) by Dr. Amjad Tufail, a Pakistani short story writer and a psychologist.
The story described a marriage in which the husband, on his dying bed, was regretting not having left his wife earlier. The wife, having left her lover, was perpetually embarrassed, and was devoted to caring for her dying husband. The lover was aimlessly loitering, wondering why he came between the two in the first place.
The setting was, indeed, a city in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Many students were shocked to discover that infidelity may have been a common enough phenomenon to merit a short story.
Then one day, in my Qualitative Research class, a student by the name of Zainee Tariq asked me if she could do her project on extramarital affairs. She was concerned that, Pakistan being a religious country, she wouldn’t find many willing subjects. Since this was only a small scale research project, designed to teach them qualitative research, I asked her to find a cheating couple in which both partners were married to other people.
Not only did she find such a couple, she was shocked by what she found. The guy in this adulterous relationship was sleeping with several other married women and the woman’s sister, also married, was also involved with another man. All of a sudden, the problem seemed to be much more common than previously assumed.
The woman was married to a heroin addict, a man who was never home. She needed emotional intimacy. The man was married to a woman who didn’t enjoy sex. He needed sex. Over time, however, the two had started to enjoy and crave both sex and intimacy.
While pondering this thought, a close friend referred a 40 years old client for depression. She was depressed because her boyfriend was getting married. This would not have shocked me if I hadn’t known that the woman was married. She had been married for 10 years and had been cheating on her husband for nearly eight. ‘Doesn’t he suspect anything?’ I asked, given the duration of the deceptive behavior. ‘He is so stupid he doesn’t have a clue. And he is out of town a lot, because of his business, you know.’
My client had had several ‘boyfriends’ since her marriage whom she ‘loved madly.’ And each time a boyfriend got married, she got depressed. This time too, her latest boyfriend, had gotten married and ended the affair. All her boyfriends had been in their 20’s.
A year later, as i was taking research students for supervision, Anila Azmat, a student from Kinnaird College said she wanted to research why married people have affairs. Anila’s thesis found that one of the main reasons for marital infidelity seems to be loveless arranged marriages. Arranged marriage is still the norm in Pakistan. A boy and girl, who don’t know each other at all are bound together in holy matrimony by their parents.
It is no wonder then that the divorce rate is rising also. While many women adopt the route of deception and cheat on their husbands, many others simply walk out.
It is indeed one of the ironies of life in Pakistan. The Taliban, the religious fanatics are demanding the rule of Shariah, the Islamic law, while ordinary people continue to live their lives, driven by pleasure, lust, intimacy and happiness.