Austenistan Two sisters attempt to use a 19th century novelist to outwit modern Pakistani restrictions on women. And a war reporter discovers the power of drawing room comedy to understand her own family. (And warning: This episode has explicit language.)
NPR logo

Austenistan

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/627779858/627879145" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Austenistan

Austenistan

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/627779858/627879145" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

GREGORY WARNER, HOST:

I'm Gregory Warner. This is ROUGH TRANSLATION, the show about how something familiar in the United States might get translated in some other part of the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)

WARNER: Last winter, NPR Pakistan correspondent Diaa Hadid, who more often is covering terrorism and the Taliban and Malala, paid a visit to an afternoon tea party in the Pakistani city of Lahore.

LAALEEN SUKHERA: Hi.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Hello.

SUKHERA: Sorry. Everybody tends to be very late in Lahore.

WARNER: ...A tea party hosted by the Jane Austen Society of Pakistan.

HADID: Imagine stepping off a noisy Pakistani street into an 18th-century British drawing room.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HADID: The teacups of white bone china - the bookshelves are lined with leather volumes. Women are in period costume.

SUKHERA: Should we matchmake for you guys?

HADID: A maid wheels out a trolley that's filled with delights from Jane Austen's time.

SUKHERA: These are some scones with clotted cream.

HADID: And because this is Pakistan, Pakistani high tea, there's some, like, fried chicken and, like, some salty-spicy tidbits to also snack on.

SUKHERA: Just for a little zing.

I was, like, please, no, no, no.

HADID: The founder of this society is Laaleen Sukhera. She is hovering over the trolley, fanning her long hair with a black lace fan.

SUKHERA: You want to go in the other room now?

HADID: She's keeping one eye on the guests and another on her three children.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: What is that?

HADID: There's Misha.

MISHA: Misha.

HADID: Isha and Amal.

AMAL: Amal.

HADID: Misha's studying opera.

MISHA: (Singing in foreign language).

SUKHERA: OK, ladies.

HADID: And Laaleen holds a Jane Austen-themed quiz.

SUKHERA: Yeah. Everybody here has to take part. What formal event is the turning point in Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy's romance? Is it Mansfield (ph) ball, Netherfield ball...

HADID: I know Jane Austen.

SUKHERA: ...Or Longbourn ball?

HADID: I've read some of her books, and I've seen some adaptations. But this...

SUKHERA: Anyone - does anyone know?

HADID: This is like "Jeopardy!" championship-level Austen fandom.

SUKHERA: ...Mr. Darcy's grandmother...

HADID: Jane Austen has a surprisingly intense following in this former British colony. Laaleen and her big sister would travel to the U.K. to visit the landscapes and towns of Jane Austen novels.

SUKHERA: We would go to all these things where we would not only be the only brown people, but we would be the only people under - what? - 60. So it would be, like, elderly white people everywhere, and it would just be her and me.

And tell me about yourself. Are you a Lizzy?

HADID: I haven't read enough Jane Austen to know what a Lizzy is.

Afterwards, I'm talking to Laaleen's older sister, Mahlia Lone.

I'm from Australia.

She's got perfectly arched eyebrows, big, black eyes. I don't tell Mahlia that I'm a little skeptical of this gospel of Jane Austen.

MAHLIA LONE: Come on; let's relate Jane Austen to...

SUKHERA: Yeah. That's the whole point.

HADID: Then she says something that I find intriguing.

LONE: What resonates with us is that she taught us how to navigate the world.

HADID: Jane Austen helped them figure out how to live as women in present-day Pakistan.

LONE: She said, it's OK; it's OK; you have constraints. But then she teaches you how to remain in the system and yet do something for yourself.

HADID: Over the next couple of months, this little story I was reporting about a literary club would get so much more dramatic than I ever expected. These kids running around here at the tea party - they'd be taken away from their mother. My own engagement would nearly rip my family apart. And Jane Austen - she'd play a strange role in all of it.

WARNER: Coming up on the show, matches will be made. Cops will be called. Decorum will be broken. And a seasoned war correspondent might be persuaded of the power of drawing room comedy to understand even her own life. Call it "Pride And Prejudice," the Islamabad edition, or call it ROUGH TRANSLATION - back after a break.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: We're back with ROUGH TRANSLATION and our story from Diaa Hadid. We're going to start this story way back before the tea parties, when the two sisters were children.

HADID: Tell me more about the mushroom house.

LONE: So I always felt like Alice and "Alice In Wonderland" because I lived in a mushroom.

HADID: The sisters grew up in a mushroom-shaped house in Lahore. Lahore's the cultural capital of Pakistan. And this is a house unlike any other. It has a shade instead of a roof.

LONE: It was painted in that style that's dripping. (Laughter) So it was a mushroom that was melting. It had a bridge.

HADID: This house is built by their father.

SUKHERA: My dad - he's like that.

HADID: He's a magazine publisher. He's eclectic. He's bohemian. And he's also incredibly wealthy.

SUKHERA: My mom was the practical one, the doctor, the gynecologist. She's like, this is such an impractical house. But it was, like, we loved it.

HADID: But on this night, it's the scene of an argument.

LONE: There was this big commotion, family commotion. And we were all crying. All the girls are crying because they're all been caught.

HADID: Mahlia's 17 years old. Her boyfriend Ahmad was sending her gifts through her little sister, Laaleen.

SUKHERA: Very conspicuous items, like teddy bears and, like, perfume and love letters, and...

HADID: One of the love letters had been found.

SUKHERA: There was a hue and cry.

HADID: What do you mean by hue and cry? What would happen?

SUKHERA: Well, my mom would freak out. She would say, what is this? You're not allowed to do this, you know? You can't have, like, this guy's things here.

HADID: A girl like Mahlia can't be seen as having boyfriends. It would ruin her reputation, and it might even ruin the reputation of her sisters.

They did not want you to date this guy. Why?

LONE: Well, this is the '80s. Before this, my parents' generation was much more liberal, as in, they had cabarets in Lahore, and there were actually places where you could go and buy booze. And in the '80s, when we grew up, it's called the confused generation.

HADID: It was the harshest years of a military dictator who was ruling Pakistan. Alcohol was forbidden. Gambling was shut down.

LONE: So it was really, really conservative at that time. Of course you didn't want your daughter talked about.

HADID: Families like Mahlia's were under suspicion. They were bourgeoisie. They were rich. They were liberal. They could not afford to be seen as that kind of family of the old regime. They had to behave. And so Mahlia's parents forced her to make the decision of her life at 17. She either marries this boy, or she continues her applications and goes to college in the United States, where she'd always wanted to go to an Ivy League school. But she can't have both. It's either marriage or college.

WARNER: Maybe not surprising for someone who grew up in a mushroom house, Mahlia comes from the kind of family where in times of hard choices, you turned to literature.

LONE: That's all I had, was books.

WARNER: But, at first, it's not Jane Austen she's reading.

LONE: "Anna Karenina," "Madame Bovary" - I mean, I read them as a little girl. And the one thing that was always hammered home was that if you're a bad woman, if you, you know, transgress, then you die.

HADID: Wow. That's such an interesting lesson to be taken from that, considering you're in a house where, like...

LONE: ...Where anything is possible, and yet, I picked up the what's-not-possible part (laughter).

WARNER: But Mahlia will discover another book, "Pride And Prejudice" by Jane Austen. And she feels like this book provides more practical advice on her situation.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE")

JENNIFER EHLE: (As Elizabeth Bennet) For a single man in possession of good fortune must be in want of a wife.

ALISON STEADMAN: (As Mrs. Bennet) And who better than one of our five girls?

JULIA SAWALHA: (As Lydia Bennet, snorting).

SUSANNAH HARKER: (As Jane Bennet) Lydia.

SAWALHA: (As Lydia Bennet) What a fine joke if he were to choose me.

POLLY MABERLY: (As Kitty Bennet) Or me.

HADID: So the plot of "Pride And Prejudice," which has been made into films and adaptations, is that there's five daughters from the Bennet family. There's no sons. And so the property that they live in is going to be bequeathed to their distant cousin once their father dies.

LONE: The law of primogeniture, which is, if there's no son, then father's estate goes intact to his next male relative - we actually have a law like that here. If you don't have any sons, a part of your estate, a man's estate, goes to his brothers.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE")

BENJAMIN WHITROW: (As Mr. Bennet) How can it affect them?

STEADMAN: (Mrs. Bennet) Oh, Mr. Bennet, how can you be so...

LONE: Mrs. Bennet is very worried because when her husband passes away her daughters, will be left penniless, and they will be out on the street unless they're married.

HADID: They're under a deadline to get married. And they must be married off well.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE")

STEADMAN: (As Mrs. Bennet) A young man of large fortune from the north of England...

LONE: They were so limited. They had limited options. And they had limited freedom. And they had limited financial control over their lives, which is exactly what we go through.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE")

STEADMAN: (As Mrs. Bennet) And he has 5,000 a year. What a fine thing for our girls.

LONE: I mean, my mom was not exactly like Mrs. Bennet. But my mom always worried, oh, who am I going to get my daughters married to? So they have to have this impeccable reputation; reputation is most important. In our culture, even now, it's the same as during Jane Austen's time.

HADID: So Mahlia kind of has her own reckoning about this, and she realizes that - what are her choices? She's not going to inherit a lot of money from her family. She could either marry now to this boy who's chasing her and who spoils her, or she could go to college in the States, come back and then maybe get married off to somebody else, who maybe she won't like so much; maybe she won't really have a say in it.

WARNER: In the Pakistani high society that Mahlia's part of, just as in Jane Austen's England, matchmaking is a community activity. Men and women don't get to know each other by going on dates. That's not allowed. So courtship unfolds in these public arenas of balls and weddings.

HADID: In Pakistan, there's these older women who turn up at weddings, rishta aunties - relationship aunties. They're there to try and match up men and women together.

WARNER: At the wedding.

HADID: At the wedding. Think of it like an IRL, like, in real life, like, Tinder profile that you're just, like, swiping through. If a rishta auntie, like, sees a woman at one of these weddings, she'll go up to her and - you know, and ask her, like, how old are you? How much do you weigh? Is that your real skin color?

WARNER: Is that your real skin color?

HADID: Yeah. Yeah, because women here use skin-bleaching products to make themselves look paler.

WARNER: Oh.

HADID: The thing is - is that I was used to that, coming from an Arab family.

WARNER: Diaa's family lives in Canberra, the capital of Australia. They're immigrants from Lebanon and Egypt.

HADID: When I was growing up, one of my cousins got married at 14. And my auntie looked at me, and, you know, and she said, it's best that she got married at 14 because after that, a girl's looks start to fade.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: What are these rishta aunties looking for?

HADID: They want a woman who is tall but not too tall, slim but not skinny. You know, if she's professionally accomplished, that's even better. Think about it, like, accomplishments from Jane Austen's time.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE")

ANNA CHANCELLOR: (As Miss Bingley) Oh, certainly. No woman can be really esteemed, accomplished who does not also possess a certain something in her air - in the manner of walking, in the tone of her voice.

COLIN FIRTH: (As Mr. Darcy) And to all this you must yet add something more substantial - in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.

HADID: It's not that anyone wants her to work, but it's nice to have a professionally accomplished wife in the house. That's why so many Pakistani women who graduate as doctors don't ever work as doctors.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE")

EHLE: (As Elizabeth Bennet) I'm no longer surprised at you knowing only six accomplished women, Mr. Darcy.

HADID: Lizzy Bennett from "Pride And Prejudice," one of the Bennet girls, resents having to rack up accomplishments just to prove that, you know, she's ready for marriage. And so does Mahlia. So in the choice between going to college or picking a guy who already adores her, she knows what she's going to do.

LONE: Ahmad was not allowed to come until they had decided to accept him. So you know how in the West, you get to know each other over drinks? We get to know each other over tea. My cousins Sonya played a prank, and she put red chilies in Ahmad's teacup. And then he drank that tea.

HADID: (Laughter) And he drank it with a straight face.

LONE: Yes.

HADID: And then what happens? You start your new life with Ahmad?

LONE: I was happy that I didn't have a curfew, and I could - I wasn't allowed to wear sleeveless before I got married. And I could wear sleeveless. And we went on a honeymoon, and Ahmad let me buy a bustier Madonna-style. I could go to parties. Please, I was in paradise.

HADID: You're describing this life that was exactly how my cousins were in the '90s. They get married, and then they'd get to, like, do things that they wanted. And they'd go out to parties.

LONE: Exactly.

HADID: It's very liberating.

LONE: (Laughter) Yeah. You get it.

HADID: The one person who didn't get it was Laaleen, Mahlia's little sister.

SUKHERA: It affected me a lot. Such a smart girl - she was a valedictorian. And she didn't finish college to get married. I mean, she did it over a boy.

WARNER: That marriage that her older sister made to have more freedoms and more control over her life - Laaleen saw that same choice as a surrender.

SUKHERA: I was like, I am not letting that happen to me. I'm am going to conquer the world. I'm going to want to do whatever I want. I'm not going to let these dumb local boys - no offense to my brother-in-laws, whatever - I'm not going to let them, like, take away my freedom.

HADID: So when Laaleen turns 17, she goes to the United States for college. When she graduates, she moves to Manhattan, where she starts working as an intern for Merchant Ivory films - that does period dramas.

SUKHERA: I had Vanessa Redgrave on the phone. I had Hugh Grant's phone number. I went to Liam Neeson's house.

HADID: But Laaleen was very protective of her reputation, even when she was, like, a fun 20-something in New York because she had to think about the society she was returning back to.

SUKHERA: I didn't even let anyone kiss me. And there were many, many opportunities.

HADID: During, like, the great era of "Sex And The City."

SUKHERA: A lot of the places on "Sex And The City" were places where we'd be hanging out.

HADID: And...

SUKHERA: I called it Abstinence and the City (laughter). It's like when you have a season in London 200 years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE")

EHLE: (As Elizabeth Bennet) Our position as a family, our very respectability is called into question by Lydia's wild behavior.

SUKHERA: Do you sneak out and go to a masquerade ball? Or do you, you know, go properly to a debutante ball? You know, do you try to meet people on the sly, or do you just keep kosher.

HADID: It's saving your get-out-of-jail-free card, in a way.

WARNER: You know, hearing you describe Laaleen's life and her choices, it sounds like you get the dilemmas that she was facing.

HADID: I really empathize. I really empathize. I left home at about the age of 22. My parents were really protective of me. And they're also quite conservative. And for years, we didn't really talk to each other. But I always made a point of going home every year and visiting my parents. And when I would go home, I'd respect their rules. So I'd dress modestly I wouldn't, you know, talk about boyfriends or parties or drinking alcohol or any of that. I'd be a compromised version of their good daughter in their house and be my own person outside of their house.

WARNER: Diaa's approach was different from Laaleen or Mahlia. It wasn't freedom through marriage, and it wasn't having a chaste single life. She put up a firewall. As long as her parents back in Australia did not know anything about her private life, she could keep her family and her independence.

HADID: I think Laaleen in New York was walking a similar tightrope.

WARNER: Abstinence and the City.

HADID: But there's two things that bring the Laaleen back to Pakistan in a hurry. The first is 9/11, and that makes it so much harder for Pakistanis to get work visas in the United States.

SUKHERA: I lost my job because they didn't want to sponsor my work visa.

HADID: And the second is her mother.

SUKHERA: Mommy said to me - she said, listen, Lolly, come home for a little while. Spend some time with us. I didn't know what she meant, but I know now. She was obviously sick and wasn't telling me.

HADID: Her mother knew that she had breast cancer, and she knew that she was going to die soon.

SUKHERA: And my mom was really worried about me. She was like, she needs to get married. Who's going to take care of her? What's going to happen to her? What's going to happen to her when we all go?

HADID: So Laaleen decides that she's going to get married.

SUKHERA: I wanted her to feel OK about me. I wanted her to be happy that I was settled.

HADID: But she doesn't want to do it the Pakistani way - no rishta aunties, no stuffy living rooms filled with prospective grooms.

SUKHERA: Yeah, I did pretty much refuse to be introduced to people flat out. I said, no. Please, no. Ugh.

HADID: She's holding out for a Mr. Darcy. And on cue enters a single man in possession of a good fortune. We'll call him Mr. Z.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE")

EHLE: (As Elizabeth Bennet) I think if he continues so, she's in a fair way to be very much in love with him.

SUKHERA: When I looked at him, I was surprised. I was like, oh, he's not unattractive.

HADID: Was he handsome?

SUKHERA: I wasn't like, wow, he's hot because I never used to do that. But I guess he was.

HADID: And he was rich. And he was always traveling for business. Mahlia, her oldest sister, was way more cautious.

LONE: This is a guy who was very eligible. He was very, like, sought after in Islam mothers (ph). So we had heard at that time. But we did not know who he was.

HADID: He hadn't been vetted by the family.

LONE: He then came to the ball that we had organized. He went to Karachi to our friend's wedding. Always, he was there in the background.

HADID: She'd look around, and he'd be there.

LONE: Like, stalking her.

HADID: Laaleen finds this terribly romantic.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE")

LUCY SCOTT: (As Charlotte) She should show more affection, even than she feels, not less, if she is to secure him.

EHLE: (As Elizabeth Bennet, laughing) Secure him?

HADID: But she can't get to know him because in Pakistan, you couldn't just date a guy.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE")

EHLE: (As Elizabeth Bennet) Before she is sure of his character? Before she's even certain of her own regard for him?

SCOTT: (As Charlotte) But of course.

HADID: She had to do what would be familiar to any Jane Austen heroine. She had to kind of figure out who he was during these dances, these weddings and these balls.

SUKHERA: Over here, there's an expression - paet mi daarhi, which means, like, there's a beard in your stomach.

HADID: Laaleen tells me this expression I'd never heard before - a beard in your stomach.

SUKHERA: It means a guy who appears progressive, but inside, he's like an inner fundo, which is, like, short for a fundamentalist. He appears really progressive to you, and then all of a sudden, he'll be like, why are you doing this? You're not allowed to do this. You can't wear this.

HADID: We used to call them MMID.

SUKHERA: What's that?

HADID: My Mohammed is different.

SUKHERA: Whoa (laughter). We have so many names for the same person, don't we?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC

HADID: So Laaleen decides to test Mr. Z's character.

SUKHERA: I was like, let me show this guy my worst self. Let me, like, exaggerate. So I remember we were at this party. And I went with my cousin. And I was like, what the heck is he doing here?

HADID: She starts dancing. She's got a lot of men around her. Now, all these men are cousins. But...

SUKHERA: I had everybody outside me at the same time, so I looked like this, like, crazy party girl. And then I looked at him to see, like, have I scared him off yet?

HADID: She's hoping that what she's going to see out of this dance is, like, is he jealous? Is he conservative? Can he handle a girl who'll dance with a man or men.

SUKHERA: He still pursued me. I was like, this is a good sign. He's not scared off. Maybe he's really liberal, and maybe he's just really mature.

HADID: He asks to marry her three times. And on the third time, she says yes. And then Laaleen gets married, and she enters a life that her Jane Austen novels had completely not prepared her for. He starts monitoring her movements, which friends she sees.

SUKHERA: I had to be really careful who I spoke to, what I did, where I went, what time I was home.

HADID: She gets pregnant quickly. He moves her out to his mother's house in the countryside, far from her sister and everyone she knows. He's traveling around the world for business. She feels trapped.

SUKHERA: In this dark, suburban house - country house. I couldn't wear what I wanted. I couldn't do what I wanted. I couldn't even take my kids where I wanted. I just became this shell.

HADID: Laaleen told me about some things that happened in her marriage - bad things that, in the end, she didn't want to make public. But she did tell her older sister Mahlia. And Mahlia told her, this is Pakistan. You've got to remember your husband - he's in charge.

LONE: So we have to ask them for permission for everything we do.

HADID: It's not fair, but you have to make it work.

LONE: We manage. You know, we know how to work the system.

HADID: I'm sitting in Mahlia's living room with the two sisters. They are still arguing about this. And Laaleen gets angry every time she remembers her sister's advice.

SUKHERA: When a marriage fails, it's your fault because you haven't been able to handle him properly. You still don't know how to make your ideas appear like his ideas. You still don't know how to...

LONE: (Unintelligible).

SUKHERA: Yeah, that's you. You still don't - I mean, I'm like - I'm sorry, but, I mean, it's not my fault if a man is treating me badly. It's not my fault.

HADID: Mahlia's advice to her little sister is...

LONE: We have limited options.

HADID: You've got kids. You just can't walk out.

LONE: Your daughters will be judged. You know, oh, her mother is divorcee. It's a tough life for a single woman in Pakistan. Everything is difficult here, as you can see. I don't have electricity. I don't have gas. You know, you have to know someone to get everything done. And on top of that, you're a single mom, and then you have to basically restart your career...

HADID: After the argument, I'm sitting with Laaleen alone. And yeah, she concedes she was really naive about marriage.

SUKHERA: I wanted a dashing hero who would be everything that I had waited for and saved myself for my whole life. But that's not real life, is it? It's just the books you read and the movies you watch.

HADID: Do we have tissues?

SUKHERA: No, no. It's fine.

HADID: At the low point of her marriage, that's when she broke up with Jane Austen.

SUKHERA: I stopped reading and watching.

HADID: She can't read the books. She can't watch the movies.

SUKHERA: I feel very bitter afterwards.

HADID: Why?

SUKHERA: Because I didn't have that. Because mine was a failed romance. It was a failed marriage. They all found happiness - didn't they? - no matter what their lot. And they all found companionship. And I didn't.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: Laaleen's journey back to Jane Austen would begin with a move. Her husband moved them out of his mother's dark country estate into a bright house in the city, where Laaleen had friends.

HADID: And there, she kind of starts following her sister's advice, carving out her freedom where she can find it.

SUKHERA: We had a meetup.

HADID: One day, when her husband isn't around, she organizes a tea party.

SUKHERA: We had a little tea party, and it was very cute.

HADID: The women turn up in costumes that would have been worn in Jane Austen's time.

SUKHERA: In our Regency-inspired outfits, feeling like utter fools.

HADID: They have curls in their hair, flouncy skirts.

SUKHERA: What the hell are we doing?

HADID: Laaleen gives it a name, the Jane Austen Society of Pakistan, which is how I came to meet her.

SUKHERA: For the first time in years, I was doing something on my own.

Netherfield ball, or Longbourn ball? Anyone? Does anyone know?

And I wasn't just going out and doing it. I was doing it with so many restrictions.

Listen to this. It is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life. Whose opinion is this?

This slight ambition came back, and I just started feeling a little more alive and a little more hopeful. And so this teeny, tiny, casual literary club which, was really nothing more than a few women getting together and talking, meant a lot to me. It is the only time.

Who was Mrs. Hill? It is literally the only time housekeepers are ever mentioned, except for Pemberley.

HADID: Gradually, Laaleen's real life and her fangirl life, they start to merge. She goes from dressing up as a Jane Austen character to writing a Jane Austen-themed story about Pakistan governed by the same social conventions and restrictions. She calls her story, "On The Verge."

SUKHERA: (Reading) I knew another prince would come my way, I thought, trying not to get too excited about it.

My story, "On The Verge," is about a young blogger inspired by Jane Austen. She lives in Lahore. She gets engaged to a very eligible man.

HADID: A dastardly heir to a halaal burger franchise, even while fending off pressure from the rishta aunties.

SUKHERA: (Reading) You're a lovely girl, Roya Beta. But do you know how many girls with decent backgrounds, anorexia and designer clothes are waiting to pounce on him?

And before their wedding, she finds out that he's cheating on her. So she makes a lucky escape.

HADID: Sounds like you're writing about yourself but intervening in the process so that you don't end up marrying him.

SUKHERA: Have you even read it? I mean, this is all fiction, isn't it? It's not like I'm writing a memoir.

HADID: Laaleen keeps insisting to me that she's definitely not that fictional character...

SUKHERA: It's not me.

HADID: ...Because that fictional character was smart enough to leave the guy.

She wasn't smarter than you. You just gave her the benefit of hindsight.

SUKHERA: There were signs I should have understood. I think people who cared about me thought that I would've canceled the wedding. And I was actually on the verge of canceling it. Oh, my God. The story's called "On The Verge."

HADID: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: There are two curious things to point out about this moment. The first is that after three decades of seeing her own life reflected in Jane Austen stories, Laaleen had now started using Austen in a very different way, as a kind of alternate universe where she could work out problems that were too painful or just too embarrassing to face directly. But perhaps the most curious thing for me is that our reporter Diaa had such a strong reaction to all this. It really bugged her that Laaleen was still so faithful to this author, an author whose heroines ultimately accept a world that vastly curtails their own freedom.

HADID: And yet, every time I would suggest to Laaleen that, you know, what Jane Austen represented was actually a really dark system, something that had really constrained and held women back, and that's what really was reflected 200 years later in Pakistan, there was just constant pushback. And, you know, like, as a reporter I shouldn't be imposing my worldview on anyone else. But I kind of wanted her to say, [expletive] you, Jane Austen.

(LAUGHTER)

WARNER: Why? 'Cause...

HADID: That we shouldn't be celebrating the gilded cage.

WARNER: Diaa had lived her life avoiding that cage.

HADID: You know, one day, when this is all over and there's a bottle of wine between us, I can tell you, like, the crazy story of how I ended up getting married. This is nuts.

WARNER: Really?

HADID: Yeah. Getting married so we can date. (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: When we get back from the break, we get Diaa to tell us her own crazy story. She kept a firewall between her personal life and her family. But what happens when that firewall collapses?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: This is ROUGH TRANSLATION, and we're back with our story from Diaa Hadid. It turned out that as Diaa was reporting this story, when she was first invited to that tea party in Lahore, she had recently met a guy.

SUKHERA: That sounds nice. Where, here?

HADID: Thank you.

LONE: Come on; let's relate Jane Austen to him.

SUKHERA: Yeah, that's the whole point.

WARNER: And her boyfriend, Mem - he just so happened to be a major Jane Austen fan.

HADID: He is a "Pride And Prejudice" obsessive.

SUKHERA: What?

LONE: Oh, my God.

HADID: And his favorite thing...

SUKHERA: You're so lucky.

(LAUGHTER)

HADID: I'm taping this for you, Mem.

SUKHERA: He reads books. That's - I mean, seriously...

WARNER: And so before we get back to the Pakistani sisters, we're going to spend a moment on Diaa's love life.

HADID: Right. I'm going to try to tell it as briefly as possible. A week before I started the job at NPR, I was on OkCupid, and I saw a profile of a guy. His picture was kind of crap, but he looked funny, and warm and engaging. He was a professional soldier. He'd been in the military for eight years. And, you know, one tea turned into two teas and a baked cheesecake. And we must have just been chatting about literature one day, so he tells me that every year, he and his sister sit down, and they watch the 1995 BBC adaptation of "Pride And Prejudice," but they recite the lines out together because they've memorized every single word.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE")

CRISPIN BONHAM-CARTER: (As Charles Bingley) Country manners? I think they're charming.

HADID: And I really liked him. He was funny and smart and has this really odd laugh. My preference was to just not involve my family at all and to happily date this man. And he asked me if I was going to tell my family that we were seeing each other. And I would tell him, like, lets quietly date each other for a year or two and see if it works out. But he actually wanted it to be known to my family that we were seeing each other. He's very much a family person.

WARNER: Him being from his family, he totally doesn't get what kind of family you come from.

HADID: Oh, I told him he didn't get it. Oh, I told him, and I tried to explain to him.

WARNER: Diaa had lived her life knowing that she could not mention a boyfriend to her parents.

HADID: For instance, I took a selfie with a guy in Spain, and my father saw it, and that, you know, was, like, a few days of calling, and apologizing, and explaining, and trying to brush it off and waiting for Dad to answer the phone. I was trying to lay it out for a Mem - like, the drama that's going to happen once I tell my parents that I'm seeing a guy who's not Muslim. But I did want to respect his decision that he wanted the relationship to be public. That's when I realized that I could date him and risk my family's, like, anger and sadness and face a whole lot of rejection or we would fast-track to getting married, and that would bring my parents around sooner.

WARNER: You'd been - you've been dating him for...

HADID: Four weeks.

WARNER: Wow.

HADID: We'd been dating for about four weeks.

WARNER: That's quite a plunge.

HADID: So I did propose. In fact, I got down on one knee, but it was, you know, will you accept my intention to one day marry you?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: Five months after that proposal...

HADID: Mem meets my parents every week, just about, for tea. And they like him. My mother thinks that he's just such a charming, wonderful person. And it struck me today that maybe one of the reasons why Mem has been so OK with this fundamentally different cultural context he's walked into, why he's been OK wooing my parents and why he hasn't freaked out is because he's read Jane Austen. I think it gave him this instinctive playbook for me, for my parents.

WARNER: Does it change how you see Austen or Austen's role in today's time?

HADID: You know, it's funny that you're doing exactly the same thing to me that I've done to Laaleen, which is...

WARNER: (Laughter).

HADID: It's only when I stand here that I kind of realize what's happened. And at this very moment, Greg, I am actually quite grateful for Jane Austen. I possibly should put down a rose on Jane Austen's grave and say, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: To her own surprise, Diaa had come to admire the very thing about Jane Austen that she'd always hated - that the heroines accept these oppressive rules. Now, she and Mem were taking advantage of those same rules of decorum to try and get what they wanted. But there is also the contrasting theme in Jane Austen. In "Pride And Prejudice," one of the Bennett sisters, Lizzy, despite her mother's wishes, turns down a marriage proposal...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE")

DAVID BAMBER: (As William Collins) You cannot be serious in your rejection.

WARNER: ...From a very eligible suitor.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE")

EHLE: (As Elizabeth Bennet) I thank you for the honor of your proposals, but to accept them is absolutely impossible. My feelings forbid it in every respect.

WARNER: This scene of defiance, it happens again and again in Austen books where a heroine stands up for principles despite everyone telling her that to do so is imprudent. And it happens also in Laaleen's fan fiction story.

HADID: She's let her heroine avoid the ending that she so miserably blundered into, which was this unhappy marriage. She needed Jane Austen. She needed that prism to help her understand her own life as it was. And I think that gave her the confidence to do what she did next, which was ask her husband for a separation.

SUKHERA: Do you think we should have separate houses, adjoining houses and share the children? And then he came to me and he said - he came back. I had locked the door, and he pretty much broke it down. And he said, I've taken the kids. And I said, I don't give you permission to take them away. He said, I'm taking them away. So I went to the police station. And I said, I want to report something. And they said, what's your name? What's your phone number? What's your husband's name? And when I was writing it down, they just looked at me, and they picked up the phone. They were calling him up to take me.

HADID: To come and pick her up from the station - that's what she thought was happening. She goes to court. She gets custody. But even though the court orders the children to be returned to her, she says that he keeps taking them and not returning the kids. And she silently endures. And then, she says, one day, she decides to fight.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SUKHERA: It's not an easy thing, but it's not impossible.

HADID: She records this video.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SUKHERA: Just because it didn't work today doesn't mean it's not going to work. I have faith that I'll get them back. He's been doing this all year. This is not the first time. It's only the first time that I've gone public.

HADID: She posts the video on Facebook. And her sister Mahlia immediately calls her and tells her to take it down.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SUKHERA: ...With nothing, no penalties.

LONE: Anything is possible in this country. And why put yourself out there? I kept telling her wait, wait, wait, wait.

HADID: Laaleen had married a really powerful person.

LONE: Be cautious.

HADID: Laaleen actually disregards Mahlia's advice, and she ramps it off. She crashes through the limits of convention.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SUKHERA: I am here at Beni Gala police station. I'm here to file a complaint against the father of my children.

HADID: She posts another video on Facebook. And this time she's confronting the police.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SUKHERA: (Speaking Urdu).

HADID: She's demanding that they enforce the court order.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SUKHERA: (Speaking Urdu).

HADID: They keep telling her put the camera away. They offer her tea. She says, I don't want tea; I just want my children. And they say, give madam some water. And she says, I don't want water; I only want justice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SUKHERA: See. I have a court order in front of you which says that I have legal custody of my daughters.

WARNER: Laaleen's Facebook post gets thousands of views. And despite her sister's warning, the comments are almost all positive. She also gets her kids back - though it's not clear whether it was the pressure from the video or just the legal process doing its thing. What is clear is that Laaleen herself has changed.

SUKHERA: I have completely rejected certain social codes. I've rejected them from my life. (Speaking Urdu). What will people think? I have rejected it from my life. And keeping up appearances, I reject that completely now.

WARNER: On Diaa's last reporting trip, she encountered an entirely different Laaleen.

SUKHERA: Hi. How are you?

WARNER: Laaleen's holding a press conference for the launch of her book. It's a collection of stories. She's convinced six other Pakistani women to contribute their own Jane Austen-themed stories based on their lives.

SUKHERA: Hello. Oh, how nice to meet you.

WARNER: Even her older sister Mahlia has written one.

LONE: I asked my husband for permission to make it more racy. He said go for it.

HADID: And the book's called "Austenistan."

SUKHERA: Thank you. And congratulations to us all.

HADID: Laaleen is celebrated at the British embassy in Lahore.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Camera ready, please.

HADID: It's a cool evening. You can hear a fountain in the background. There's a swing chair that's adorned with roses. She and her sister Mahlia are posing in front of large posters of the book. People are taking selfies with them.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: One more.

WARNER: After Diaa's reporting trip to the launch of Austenistan, she immediately went back to planning her wedding. Her fiance Mem was still in Australia. Things were going well. She was going to get married to Mem with her parents' blessing. But when we called her next, things had taken a turn.

HADID: Dad called me and said that he could never accept the marriage.

WARNER: Because they're worried about how others will see them?

HADID: No, my parents are very religious. And they're pretty certain that it's against the religion for a Muslim woman to marry in non-Muslim man. Mem actually did offer to convert. But his conversion was rejected. He was very clear with my family that he was an atheist and that he was ceremonially converting to become a part of the family. They said it wasn't sincere. It wasn't genuine.

You know, just as my Wi-Fi was coming in and out today, I got an email from a member of my family that tried to sound kind and, you know, said that she was willing to meet me and Mem but that, for reasons that she hoped I could understand, we shouldn't meet their children. Those children are my nieces and nephews. They know me and love me. And I love them. It's - the body blows sometimes feel unbearable.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: Jane Austen's heroines lived in a world where they didn't have the option of having private lives. They had to make all their hardest choices under the reproachful gaze of the whole village. In Austen's telling, it's those public failures that help them discover who they are and what they most care about.

HADID: And now that we've had to fight for the past few months - you know, just like wade through all the crap that my family has thrown - I want to marry this man even more.

WARNER: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: We got Diaa back on the phone after her honeymoon.

HADID: Yes, do you want me to tell you what happened?

WARNER: Yeah, can you maybe tell us, like, just something about the wedding?

HADID: OK. I'm going to barrel through, OK?

WARNER: Sure.

HADID: So the day I had to fly out from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, to Perth in Australia to get married, I was late for my flight. And the airport was incredibly crowded. I mean, there were like hundreds of people outside the airport who couldn't get in. And so I had to leave my luggage behind and just like grab my little carry-on that had a fresh T-shirt, a pair of jeans in it and my grandmother's earrings. And I had to run through a crowd, just elbows out. And I separated a woman from her baby in a carriage. So I had to kind of, like, rejoin them together. Like, I ran. I bolted. I leapt over security barriers. I was just like, I've got to get married. I'm so sorry. I never do this. I was just this crazy lady in the airport.

And I got to the Emirates desk. And I was like, my luggage is outside, and I'm inside. Well, you have to go back and get it. Like, there's no way. And that moment was just like, do I really want that baggage? Like, that baggage was the wedding dress, my shoes, my contact lenses, my jewelry, the picnic blankets for everyone to sit on, full meters of silk chiffon to wrap around the little, like, stand that we were going to have. And every single one of these items represented the misery of planning my own wedding without my family. I was just standing at that Emirates desk thinking, you have a chance to just let go. Like, you're actually just going to leave all the baggage behind, and you're going to do the one thing - like, that one thing that you wanted to do.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Mem, please now say the words that you have chosen to say...

HADID: I left my baggage at the door.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MEM PLAIT: Diaa, I met you. And at once, I fell in love with you. And I fall more and more in love with you each day since.

HADID: And I took my flight home. And the only two members of my family who turned up to my wedding were my niece and nephew. And my niece, I often give her my old vintage dresses. And so she turned up with a beautiful peach vintage dress that I'd given her a few years ago and my favorite pair of scuffed leather shoes that I'd also given her a few years ago. And that's what I wore to my wedding.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PLAIT: I, Emmanuel Elliot Plait (ph), take you, Diaa Hadid, to be my lawful wedded wife.

HADID: And we got married. If I could have picked a fairy-tale wedding, it would have been on a lovely, like, blustery, bright day...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: You can now kiss each other to begin your married lives.

HADID: ...In a garden by the sea with Mem.

(APPLAUSE)

WARNER: Today's show is produced by Jess Jiang. Our editor is Marianne McCune. Original music by John Ellis. Thanks to Asattar Kahn (ph) and the NPR Pakistan bureau and Michael May of NPR Story Lab for field producing and editing. Also, thanks to Nishant Dahiya, Stacey Vanek Smith, Sarah Gonzalez, Maha Saeed (ph), Karen Duffin and Alex Goldmark, David Kestenbaum and Sana Krasikov for their invaluable feedback. Will Dobson runs NPR's international desk. The ROUGH TRANSLATION pantheon is Neal Carruth, Mathilde Piard and Anya Grundmann. Susie Cummings fact-checked this episode and mastering by Andy Huether.

This is the last episode of our second season. We are going back to reporting more stories from a cross-cultural perspective. But let me ask you something before we go. If you like these kind of stories - if you like this stuff in your podcast feed, there is something you can do to help us right now. And it is free. You can tell a friend about the show and leave a review and a rating on Apple Podcasts. We have a how-to video on our Facebook page. It literally takes one minute. But that one minute really does help us convince the people who support the show to keep us going. So thanks for listening. I'm Gregory Warner, back this fall with more ROUGH TRANSLATION.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.