India has a terrible habit of pitting its children against each other from a very early age. Our successes, as well as our failures, are compared. It is not uncommon. But what rarely finds importance in a middle-class Indian household is our inborn natural talents, which stunts us. Imagine how Cinderella, whose whole existence revolves around nasty and hurtful taunts of her stepmother, would have dealt with her future troubles? Would she whimper at loud voices or bite everyone’s head off? Easy is to web a tale of everything gay, but it is immensely difficult to talk about the psychological and emotional toll it takes on us to absorb such forms of abuse.
Hundreds and thousands of maidens have been initiated into womanhood under the shadow of folk tales. It has been a part of man more than his flesh. Similarly, these stories about young Princesses waiting on their future husbands without any importance to their own identity have been recounted one way, too many times. A tale as old as time, of Rapunzel, Cinderella, Snow White, and whatnot has held a special place in our childhood. We know the repercussions these stories have had on young girls, from inducing inferiority complexes and depression to self-loathing tendencies and becoming way too dependent on their male counterparts. This article aims to venture into how these pretty Princesses and their stories of torture romanticize disarray in mental health, making torture seem okay as long as a Prince Charming is waiting at the end of the tunnel.
If there’s one thing common among the three Princesses mentioned above, it isn’t their fair crowns or their handsome grooms, but their caretakers. From Cinderella’s cruel stepmother and stepsisters to Rapunzel’s evil lady captor to Snow White’s jealous stepmother, two tropes remain in common. First is that a lady, who hasn’t birthed a child from her womb, is cruel and would torture her stepchildren, and the second is that a woman needs her knight in shining armour for which she must become a damsel in distress with or without her will. It puts unnecessary and unnatural pressure on young boys who are forced to bear the ‘Saviour Complex’ for life. It also becomes the ‘Magna Carta’ for young girls to abide by, that they ought to be dependent on their male counterparts. Women’s suffering, opposite to common belief, doesn’t bring forth a new admiration for her saviour but brings with itself many mental and emotional distresses.
One such Pakistani novel deals with early childhood mental trauma and how it affects young minds that go forward to shape these children and their futures. People’s word hurt equally, and comparing one special person to another develops animosity between the two. This trauma also affects the people close to them, and in an ugly segue, manages to destroy many young minds. The novel-turned-show is titled “Hum Kahan Ke Sachay Thay” by Umera Ahmed. Undoubtedly, there may be many worldwide books and shows which deal with such an honest and necessary topic, but Ahmed’s work deals so flawlessly with this issue that the readers remain gripped till the end.
The novel turned show explores the lives of three cousins, Mishaal, Mahreen, and Aswad, who had spent their childhood together playing, competing, and fighting with each other. Mahreen’s father dies after gambling and using drugs, so naturally, the burden of her incompetent father falls on her. She is shamed and scoffed at, while society and her own relatives besmirch her father at every step. As children, more often than not, we put our parents on a pedestal, and despite what the world believes about them, we continue to love them. So, amidst these negativities, an animosity against the society developed within Mahreen.
Although the plot explores a love story as well, it doesn’t hold much importance when compared to the topic of mental trauma and unnatural comparisons between kids. Mishaal had spent her life being compared to her much more graceful and beautiful cousin Mahreen by her mother, which led her to develop hatred against her cousin. Aswad however, always finds himself in between these two fiery tigresses, often confused on whose side to take. Middle-class families have often compared kids to their peers, from “Sharma ji ka beta” to “Gupta ji ki beti” while ignoring their inborn talents, which stunts our mental and emotional growth; a fact even Ahmed mentions.
The worst part of mental and emotional trauma is that it can’t be measured. Physical abuse can be counted and merged to form a folder named ‘Statistics on Physical Abuse’, but psychological trauma remains a myth. Women’s characters are assassinated on whims while children are bullied on playgrounds, and men, sweet men, in particular, are often branded as cowards, effeminate, and a myriad of terms. The LGBTQIA+ community’s whole existence revolves around cruel and hurtful terminologies. And since this abuse is unseen, its existence is often ignored.
Ahmed’s conclusion in the novel was that Mishaal dies, leaving Mahreen emotionally and mentally stunted. She experiences hallucinations and becomes severely ill. Every shred of Aswad’s happiness vanishes, leaving behind a shell of a man. What would the moral be, you ask? Unnatural comparisons only lead to chaos and destruction, and no one can salvage their happiness when their neighbour’s home is burning bright.
Every human is unique and significant in their own way, yet we believe that with taunts, we could somehow shape humans into our mould. Feminists from far and wide have taken up myriads of issues with fairy tales, and it is high time we change these misogynistic narratives and accept the various talents we have mastered. There are differences between fantasies and realities but fantasies often influence realities, and realities often influence fantasies. It is time we give our children better, more sensitive, and more inclusive stories to believe in. Our families need to learn to love us despite our imperfections and not taunt us over them or make unwarranted comparisons between us and our peers, because this is the only kind of abuse unseen to the common eye. About 32.4% of suicides in India (2019) were due to family problems.
If Snow White or Cinderella were contemporary figures, their story would end in depression, or they would be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or God forbid, much more. Marrying or living a happy life would have been far from reality for them.
Juhi Salim is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Maryam Hassan