In the blazing Saudi summer of 1983, Nasreen looked at her collection of sarees with a catch in her throat. Will she be able to continue to wear these beautiful garments?
Insia crawled over, giggling with mischievous delight, and grabbing Nasreen’s face. Cheerful playing for long hours at night had replaced the nightly wailing sessions since moving to Dammam. Nasreen was still convinced it was related to the light. Out here there was never any power outage, and the power would light not only 100W bulbs, but also the much-needed air conditioners. It felt like a trap, though: she could never go outside not only because of the intense heat and humidity, but also because women were not allowed to be seen outside without a legal guardian.
Was it only 6 years ago that she was laying the groundwork to escape and flee to the US? Was it just 6 years ago that she lived independently in the hostels of IIMA — the most prestigious management institute in India ? Was it really such a short time ago that she was research assistant in Industrial Psychology and putting together her portfolio to apply for PhD in the US? How things turned all of a sudden — through decisions her parents made for her on her behalf without consulting her. Was she happy? Would she trade her life now with the life she would have led had she escaped?
Insia was patting her cheek and pulling her lips, as if to say, “of course, you wouldn’t!”. Perhaps this was a question she would never allow herself to ask deeply enough to arrive at an answer. A question that would be buried with her unanswered. Her children were her life, and she would go wherever her children could enjoy the best that she could afford for them. And her husband! Life in India would have been hard because of the stigma associated with the caste of weavers from Tanda, but such prestige and presence he commanded with the Saudis — not only as a doctor, but a hafiz of the Quran, a fluent Arabic and Persian speaker, and a person with an enormously generous heart.
She played with Insia for a few moments before distracting her with toys.