بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
“A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini.
A reflection on Jalil’s letter to Mariam:
May 13, 1987
My dear Mariam:
I pray that this letter finds you in good health.
As you know, I came to Kabul a month ago to speak with you. But you would not see me. I was disappointed but could not blame you. In your place, I might have done the same. I lost the privilege of your good graces a long time ago and for that I only have myself to blame. But if you are reading this letter, then you have read the letter that I left at your door. You have read it and you have come to see Mullah Faizullah, as I had asked that you do. I am grateful that you did, Mariam jo. I am grateful for this chance to say a few words to you.
Where do I begin?
Your father has known so much sorrow since we last spoke, Mariam jo. Your stepmother Afsoon was killed on the first day of the 1979 uprising. A stray bullet killed your sister Niloufar that same day. I can still see her, my little Niloufar, doing headstands to impress guests. Your brother Farhad joined the jihad in 1980. The Soviets killed him in 1982, just outside of Helmand. I never got to see his body. I don’t know if you have children of your own, Mariam jo, but if you do I pray that God look after them and spare you the grief that I have known. I still dream of them. I still dream of my dead children.
I have dreams of you too, Mariam jo. I miss you. I miss the sound of your voice, your laughter. I miss reading to you, and all those times we fished together. Do you remember all those times we fished together? You were a good daughter, Mariam jo, and I cannot ever think of you without feeling shame and regret. Regret . . . When it comes to you, Mariam jo, I have oceans of it. I regret that I did not see you the day you came to Herat. I regret that I did not open the door and take you in. I regret that I did not make you a daughter to me, that I let you live in that place for all those years. And for what? Fear of losing face? Of staining my so-called good name? How little those things matter to me now after all the loss, all the terrible things I have seen in this cursed war. But now, of course, it is too late. Perhaps this is just punishment for those who have been heartless, to understand only when nothing can be undone. Now all I can do is say that you were a good daughter, Mariam jo, and that I never deserved you. Now all I can do is ask for your forgiveness. So forgive me, Mariam jo. Forgive me. Forgive me. Forgive me.
I am not the wealthy man you once knew. The communists confiscated so much of my land, and all of my stores as well. But it is petty to complain, for God – for reasons that I do not understand – has still blessed me with far more than most people. Since my return from Kabul, I have managed to sell what little remained of my land. I have enclosed for you your share of the inheritance. You can see that it is far from a fortune, but it is something. It is something. (You will also notice that I have taken the liberty of exchanging the money into dollars. I think it is for the best. God alone knows the fate of our own beleaguered currency.)
I hope you do not think that I am trying to buy your forgiveness. I hope you will credit me with knowing that your forgiveness is not for sale. It never was. I am merely giving you, if belatedly, what was rightfully yours all along. I was not a dutiful father to you in life. Perhaps in death I can be.
Ah, death. I won’t burden you with details, but death is within sight for me now. Weak heart, the doctors say. It is a fitting manner of death, I think, for a weak man.
I dare, I dare allow myself the hope that, after you read this, you will be more charitable to me than I ever was to you. That you might find it in your heart to come and see your father. That you will knock on my door one more time and give me the chance to open it this time, to welcome you, to take you in my arms, my daughter, as I should have all those years ago. It is a hope as weak as my heart. This I know. But I will be waiting. I will be listening for your knock. I will be hoping.
May God grant you a long and prosperous life, my daughter. May God give you many healthy and beautiful children. May you find the happiness, peace, and acceptance that I did not give you. Be well. I leave you in the loving hands of God.
Your undeserving father,
As soon as I finished reading this part of the novel, I put the book down, took a deep breath, let go a long sigh, then hid my face with my hands, and cried. Tears just flowed and I cried for few minutes.
I could feel the heavy burden of regret that Jalil was keeping in his heart every time he remembered what he did to Mariam. When he didn’t open his house door the day Mariam came to visit him. When he just let his daughter slept outside the house without guilt while she was holding the hope that Jalil, his father who used to treat her with words of love and kindness at the kolbar, might open the door for her. When he simply agreed and allowed his other wives to decide on Mariam’s fate, after the death of Nana. When he had ‘given away’ Mariam to Rasheed.
The regret that he did not show his actual love for her. The regret that he did not fulfill his own pure natural feeling of a father’s affection towards his own daughter. The regret that he should have done different things to prove his love for her. The regret that he chose his status, his wealth, people’s perception of him and his ego over his daughter whom he actually loved dearly deep in his heart.
Jalil only showed his love and compassion to Mariam when they were in the ‘kolba’ or around that area, where it is hidden from the eyes of other people. He told Mariam a lot of things, made her believed in him. And Mariam truly believed in him. But in truth, he had an ego that’s controlling him from within. In truth, he seemed to be priortising his status, wealth and his other wives and children over Mariam, the daughter whom he claimed he loved.
Mariam used to love Jalil sincerely and unconditionally. She used to idolize him and enjoy his company. But after learning and understanding through a hard way that Jalil’s love for her was actually lesser than his ego, her admiration for him disappeared. Her heart was crushed and she no longer put hopes on him. Jalil’s ego made him lose Mariam, forever.
Ego and regret.
Reading Jalil’s letter and pondering on the happenings between him and Mariam, I cannot help but reflect upon how many times have human beings create destructions to ourselves and others just because of our ego. And it is as if we simply forget that regret will creep in later. We choose our ego as if we would rather experience regret, though we know that experiencing regret is a very heavy burden to bear.
I imagine having an ego is like possessing a heart wrapped with a veil made out of iron. Hard and stiff, no love goes in and no love goes out.
Or perhaps, the iron-veiled heart does express love to others. But this love does not come purely and firmly from inside the heart. The source may be something else not as beautiful as the heart. The source could be just logic, desire or materialism. Hence, it is of no wonder if uncertainty, wavering feeling, insincerity or even a pretense exist in the way the iron-veiled heart expresses love. So when the iron-veiled heart is given a choice between his loved ones and everything else that could secure his ego, he would choose to secure his ego and left the loved ones.
And perhaps, the iron-veiled heart is loved by others too. I am certain that there are kind souls who do love him unconditionally. But unfortunately, this pure, genuine, sincere and unconditional love cannot penetrate nor crack the iron veil. We stay, we try, yes we leave but we come back. But, the more we try to fathom the iron-veiled heart, the more we get cuts and bruises, the more we feel hurt and unappreciated.
Thus, too much ego blocks human beings from expressing and receiving true, pure and unconditional love. We may not even realize it, but it is ego that causes our loved ones to cry and feel hurt. It is ego that makes us lose sincere love and sincere beloveds.
And regret, it will only come after we have experienced all those lost. Regret will not turn back time. Regret will not be able to make those who love us return. Regret is just there, exist and enhancing guilt.
Ego, regret and life.
Reading Jalil’s letter makes me reflect on the many occasions when human beings miss the opportunity to receive love and give love because of ego. And the many times that human beings create pain in others because of ego.
Husband beating the wife. Parents ignoring the children. Children neglecting the parents. Friendship tarnished. Relationship broken. Things supposed to be said, remain unsaid.
Only after some time, we realise that the pain we cost others is also afflicting us internally. That’s regret creeping in.
Husband begging the wife to come back. Parents seeking forgiveness from the children. Children moaning over the mistreatment towards the parents. And we keep wondering of the ‘if only I…’. “If only I treated her well…”. “If only I told him gently what I really meant…”.
Experiencing, witnessing and examining ‘ego’ and ‘regret’, and measuring them with the reality of life, I have come to understand and accept one conclusion: We are only human beings, human beings have weaknesses and having ego is one of them. I do not expect perfection from people, especially from the ones that I care and love. However, I do hope, somewhere in their journey of life, they would become better persons.
I have also come to a view that perhaps regret has a good value. It reminds us that we should have done better. But what is done, is done. And what’s left now is the question, what did we do after we have felt regret? Did we do anything to make things better now? Did we do something worth it to make things better? Did we really go an extra mile to prove that our regret is genuine and sincere towards the people whom deep in our heart, we actually care and value?
In ‘A Thousand Splendid Sun’, Jalil did. Though Mariam never got to witness his effort, but he did. Jalil had chosen his ego, then he regretted it and tried to fix things. He tried.