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The Recluse

Wali Khan

The last fresh piece sourced by digital guest editor for September 2022, Taha Kehar, following his theme of creative memoirs. The author explores similarities between himself and the acclaimed Bollywood actress Rekha.

The only time I ever travelled to India was on a school trip in my mid-teens and Abida Parveen’s tour of India happened to coincide with this visit. New Delhi’s inhabitants welcomed her with open arms and warm-hearted hospitality. I discovered through them that Abida Parveen would only perform for a private audience in India if the actor Rekha was in attendance. Many of them claimed that the legendary Sufi singer believed Rekha was the only person in India who truly understood her music. As an adolescent, I was surprised by this revelation as my only impression of Rekha was linked to her famed love affair with married actor Amitabh Bachchan. My Indian friends helped me look beyond this narrow lens and gain a deeper glimpse into the woman who everyone knew, but few understood. They explained to me that her personality carried more dimensions and her life remained as elusive as that of Greta Garbo.

For years, those conversations about Rekha have swirled through my mind and found residence within me. Her public image as an enigmatic, reclusive figure is difficult to forget, even though it isn’t understood in the right context. While dark depictions of affluent individuals leading lonely lives in their mansions are common in films, they often lack depth. Such individuals are shown to be distraught, reckless souls who suffer from toxic addictions that bind them to their solitude. Rarely is the fierceness of this lack of dependence on others exhibited on the screen.

I’ve become conscious of this myopic portrayal in films because my personality is marked by various shades of self-determined independence. Our society doesn’t always accept these traits. Some perceive these qualities as callous and somewhat self-serving. Few among us realise that they are part of our social fabric. In fact, we can even notice them in everyday interactions. Parents often don’t excessively interfere in their children’s lives after they’ve settled down; many of them adapt well to their own comfortable, retired lives once they’ve freed themselves from all responsibilities towards their offspring. Children, in the same way, are not consumed by an unhealthy concern for their parents. Undoubtedly, husbands and wives are also encouraged to engage in their own pursuits. Such lifestyles represent our aspirations, but they often breed individualism—a concept that is discouraged in our society.

In my case, this individualism has come at a cost: the inherent distrust in personal relationships. It would be wrong to believe that love and affection are not desired by all of us. For me, they lie shrouded in the firm belief of their sheer futility. Love and affection seldom add value to my life and are often accompanied by the threat of an inevitable failure. It is safe to say that I have always abstained from cultivating deep romantic equations; instead, each romantic relationship has served as a toxic influence, a burden that has left me bereft of further emotional energy.

We are all viewed in terms of successes and failures; and it is no secret that society isn’t kind to failures. If one must be inevitably alone during one’s failures, one must also bear the strength to enjoy one’s successes in solitude. Despite this, the desire to form genuine relationships can be vast and uncontrollable. It has drawn me towards dramatic ventures that now serve as the various chapters of my young life. Multiple failed relationships have, however, led me towards a journey of self-awareness.

When I was in the US, it was this unswerving self-awareness that made me curious about over-priced therapy sessions and propelled me towards a few discoveries. My Indian psychologist-friend was the first to identify the shocking similarities between me and Rekha—an inherently reclusive person whose life is shrouded in rumours of failed marriages. At first, this comparison seemed thick with the spirit of emasculation and I greeted it with ridicule. However, I was soon able to recognise the resemblance between me and the actor.

Rekha was never considered someone worthy of bringing fame or fortune. Initially forced into her line of work, she underwent various physical transformations as part of a self-driven process of attaining perfection. Her self-awareness and determined nature never allowed her to form healthy relationships. The clarity of what she desired in personal relationships could never be matched by any of her partners.

When I jokingly told my friend in Karachi about the Indian psychologist-friend’s comparison, she gave me a copy of Rekha's biography penned by the author Yasser Usman. I started reading this book and finally understood the reasons for my psychologist-friend's valid comparison. Despite Rekha’s predicaments, she has metamorphosed into a reclusive character who chooses to adhere to her own principles. She now lives in her own house, which has easy access to the sea breeze. She refuses to frequently socialise and only goes where her presence is appreciated. She prefers private gatherings instead schmoozing within large social circles. Her elusive nature protects her from the potential harm that society can cause.

I now accept the striking resemblance between our lives.

The dearth of comfort in familial relationships has made me deeply suspicious of people and their intentions. I hardly socialise so as to shield myself from harm. It works to my benefit because worthwhile and intriguing discussions happen rarely, and small talk is extraneous. Despite being a Lahori, I have an obsession with Karachi’s evening breeze, which has confined my existence to my Clifton apartment. Friendships have been cemented with time and the desire to form newer unnecessary equations seems arduous.

I have risen above society’s callous remarks about myself and my so-called shortcomings. My affluence serves to maintain my independence. At this stage, the risks associated with interdependent friendships and romantic affiliations are too high. I cannot afford to be weighed down by these pressures. It is perceived that my lifestyle is comfortable, but the truth is that one does not enjoy a better life based on these considerations alone.

Many have questioned my chosen existence in this self-inflicted isolation. However, I feel that the true value of relationships isn’t based on the frequency of contact. Instead, it is dependent on meaningful contact. For the majority of my life, suffering through turbulent personal relationships seemed tantamount to dealing with an unhealthy addiction. I only appreciated true independence while learning how to survive life in Karachi where the intoxicating evening breeze isn’t appreciated enough by its own inhabitants. It is in this city that I learnt that relationships are not perceived as trappings; rather, in this financial capital, relationships are primarily formed when they are considered beneficial or aligned with a vested interest. I prefer to opt out of this tussle between meaningful relationships and those that are driven by other motives. My hermit-like existence prevents me from forming harmful relationships that will only cause unwanted disturbances.

I only step out of the house to socialise when I’m at my best, even in terms of physical appearance. Why? In South Asian society, physical attributes play a critical role in our assessment of people. In my experience, the exposure of my vulnerabilities—even those that are of a physical nature—has always yielded in some form of deliberate manipulation, even by those closest to me. I’m left with my own mammoth positivity and the negativity that remains is a product of my own existence and hence, controllable. The value of my presence or absence at social gatherings has somehow grown significantly. The rarity of my presence has earned me an enigmatic appeal. Even as a man in our society, my failed relationships are a source of an unending scrutiny mirroring that of a celebrity.


The writer is a physician and mental health researcher. His research primarily deals with assessment of mental health conditions leading to extremism and terrorism. Wali Khan is a pseudonym.


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