Met a Pakistani fashion-journalist the other day, and Mohsin and I turned out to be related.
["My grandmother belonged to Allahabad..." What? Yours too? Mine too! What part of Allahabad? "The place is called Daayra-Shah-Ajmal.." Whaaat? Mine too!! Mine too... what family? "There was this family of four brothers..." Aiiieee! Whaaaat?!! "Yours too? No!" Yes! "Oh my God!" OH my God!!]
When we were done shrieking and squealing about re-discovering blood-ties etc, some very interesting conversation happened.
Some tales that Mohsin told us about the night-life and partying scene, especially in the fashion and entertainment fraternity, are just too wicked too tell. Besides, since he's a writer, apart from being a remarkably uninhibited and scream-riot-funny man, he will probably compile the best of these anecdotes into a book that will shock, tickle, turn-biases-on-their-head, in India; it will also have half of Lahore rooting for him and half of Islamabad baying for his blood (and fetch him a fatwa in both countries).
However, we got round to discussing the issue of 'four wives permissible' in Islam. Mohsin says that the Quran says that you can only have four wives if you can keep all of them happy, treat each one on par with the other, and that this is pretty much impossible (apparently, the Quran says this last bit, too).
Now, the 'four-wives' rule was created at a time when men died in large numbers, during clan-wars; the remains had to be rationed out carefully. (Men, in any case, die easily enough, even without having to go into battle. They die if they're born premature. They die of eating too much if they get enough to eat; they commit suicide if they don't. They die if they're widowed. They die earlier than their widows... and to think, women are called the weaker sex.)
The current situation is very different, now that the sex ratio tilts the other way. There are fewer women, per man. For instance, in some districts of Punjab and Madhya Pradesh, the sex ratio is close to 700-odd women for every 1000 men, or even worse. It is only fair, then, to refashion our rules.
To begin with, I think women ought to be allowed to keep one and a half husbands each.
'One and a half' men isn't easy, in practical terms. But here are the options -
1] We could ensure that each woman has one permanent husband, and a temporary one.
(a) Of course, this might not be very fair to the poor man who doesn't have a permanent job. So, the 'temporary husband' could be a rotating post, where the man can take his freedom after a year of service, and leave, if he chooses.
(b) Else, he could take up another such temporary position with another woman (two such temporary-husband positions ought to be counted as a single permanent post).
2] The second husband could be brought in via a short-term 'contract' marriage (called Muttah, and already sanctioned by our religion).
3] Yet another option is to permit one husband and one lover. That seems reasonably like a 'one and a half man' situation, to me.
4] And oh, we could also break it up into three half-husbands.... though I'm not really sure how/if it would work in our favour.
I could go on and on, but perhaps a major conference of learned, liberated women should be convened, where we begin by defining 'husband', 'half-husband', 'lover', 'boyfriend' etc, and decide the rights, duties and terms of tenure, of all categories.