Read time: 3 mins

Baji Shahnaz

by Shumaila Bari
9 July 2021

Translated from Punjabi to English by Saba Ajmal 

Translator’s note

When I was translating this piece from Punjabi, my priority was to not lose the flavour of the text while at the same time present the character and emotion clearly. I did not wish to let the beauty of the Punjabi phrases and diction die in the process of translation. Remaining loyal to the original text and developing a balanced discourse and syntax that may be mature and familiar to the speaker of other languages was my main struggle.


Baji Shahnaz

Really, sometimes I think fathers are remarkable beings. Under the harsh sun of their lives, they wither away body and soul in their struggle to provide for their families. But sometimes they turn selfish, and like other humans, they too deceive and betray.

In my childhood, whenever some relative from our village used to visit us, they would talk about the cruel behaviour of Baji Shehnaz towards her father, who was my maternal uncle. They owned two or three buffaloes, some hens and two dozen goats, which they kept in their house. My uncle used to lie on a charpoy the whole day, and Baji Shehnaz would do domestic chores. My aunt had died long ago.

Our relatives from the village would tell us that Baji Shehnaz beats her father and turns him out of the house. Poor Uncle would sit weeping at the threshold of his own house and remembering his deceased wife. Villagers took pity on him and gave him food and water. Some people gathered courage to speak to her and calm her down. Sometimes she would be reconciled, but at other times she would be at the throat of the person instead. All of us were quite worried at this situation and tried to convince Uncle to come and live with us in the city. But Uncle was too stubborn to leave his house till his death.

My father says that Shehnaz could not get married due to poverty. But others say that Uncle never wanted to get his daughter married. Every time someone came with a proposal, my uncle screamed and abused them. He also beat his wife at these times. Afraid of this entire drama, people stopped sending proposals. Baji in her colourful clothes and parandas quietly faded away into silence.

When our aunt died, many people tried to convince Uncle that he should get Shehnaz married. Uncle turned on Baji instead and called her names. He thought Baji was cursed because he did not have a child after she was born. People say Uncle would not marry her because he was afraid of losing his house, goats and buffaloes to his son-in-law. The potential son-in-law, a stranger—who knew if he would take care of him in his old age.

We all got busy, first with our studies, then with our lives after marriage. With the passage of time, we forgot about this whole affair. Yesterday, after a long time, an old friend from the village sent a friend request on Facebook, which I accepted quite gladly. During the  discussion she said, ‘It seems you have stopped visiting the village because you are ashamed.’ I asked why she thought so, because I had left for the UK after marriage, and I had no news of home. I asked her what was there to be ashamed of. She said, ‘Your Baji Shehnaz eloped from home with the gravedigger of the village. She lives with him in a graveyard in a small room. When Uncle was about to die, Shehnaz did not come to meet him. She did not even allow burying him in the graveyard of the village. Uncle died in his house alone, and villagers buried him in his house. If anyone tries to sell the house of Uncle, the client runs away after hearing that there is a grave in the middle of house.’

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Illustration by Madhri Samaranayake

About the Author

Shumaila Bari

Ms Shumaila Bari is a teacher of English language and literature. Besides English, she is fond of Punjabi and Urdu literature. She has written numerous poems and short stories in the past few years. Most of her writings challenge the socio-cultural norms imposed on women by a religiously patriarchal society. She is a keen observer […]