The Sunday TimesPlus

8th September 1996



Retired hurt

By Ratna Rao Shekar

When the 17 year old Naureen, just out of high school in Hyderabad, was persuaded by her, parents to marry Mohammed Azharuddin, who was already being considered the boy wonder of Indian cricket in 1987, as expected of girls her age, she was starry eyed.

She didn't know much about cncket, and because of her conservative upbringing had not even watched a cricket match being played in one of Hyderabad's stadium. But when friends and relatives began telling her the wonderful stories regarding Azhar's game, she was pleased that his parents, who were looking for a "tall and fair girl" for their son whose career was spinning off into another orbit, had approved of her as his bride.

"I should have waited. But I was too young to know any better," says Naureen eight years later, only 25 now, who faces stoically, not only a barrage of questions, inquisitive neighbours and friends and a sympathetic public but the more painful truth of her broken marriage.

Naureen may not have the oomph and panache of the Bombay film stars. But she is elegant and graceful. However, her serene beauty is marred by the travails of her being the centre of so much public attention and curiosity. She looks frail, but you can feel the inner resilience and strength of one who wants to keep her marriage going at any cost. For a long time, even her parents were not aware of the pain Azhar was causing her by his indifferent behaviour at home but then she had not confided in anyone as she had hoped that Azhar would get over his infatuation with starlet Sangeeta Bijlani and come back to the family.

"If we had known what she was undergoing in her in laws house we would have asked her to return home long ago,".says Naureen's older brother, Nausheed Ali Khan who has flown in from Jeddah to be with the family in their time of crisis. In fact, Naureen is still hoping for a miracle that will bring Azhar back. "I think she still has a soft corner for him. You know she actually felt bad that he had been stripped of this captaincy," says Nausheed. "She's a mother. And a mother will always hope for the father of her children to return," says Naureen's older sister.

Though there was a six year age difference between Naureen and Azhar, initially things were fine between the two. Naureen had no other ambition except to be a good wife and mother. Azhar too wanted a well brought up girl like her who'd make a good wife and mother, and one who didn't knew too much about cricket for he had enough of that elsewhere.

Both being quiet people, they shared a rapport that was enough to make a marriage going. They had moments of fun too. Both loved designer clothes and shopping for them. Azhar was fond of designer labels and he expected his wife to be smartly turned out. Naureen on her part mingled well with her husband's family, her creativity beginning with the kitchen and ending with the sofas that were rearranged to please Azhar and his friends. "He is a quiet person. We would talk about a movie we had seen on the video or about the children. Nothing was planned," says Naureen more than a little wistfully. Naureen has always led a protected life. As a girl growing up among several brothers she was not allowed to go out on her own, and was even escorted to school by her brother Nausheed. After marriage, it was Azhar who kept her away from the media glare and publicity. He would hardly take her out, especially in Hyderabad where he was something of a hero.

Naureen remarks that she hardly went on foreign tours with Azhar, especially after 1990 when the Board laid down rules about wives accompanying husbands on their cricketing tours. "He would say, "as a captain if I broke the rules and took you, I would be setting a bad example to others", she says. Even the times when she went with him on a tour he would dissuade her from sitting in the box where the television cameras would be focused on her. Though she went abroad with him, she ended up watching her husband's game on TV at a friend's house!

"In the beginning, I didn't know anything about cricket, but later, I'd pray he'd play well," says Naureen naively.

Since the two lived in a joint family and since Azhar was always surrounded by friends and hangers-on the couple hardly had any privacy. Naureen cannot even recall a time when just she, Azhar and the kids took time off to go on a holiday. There were two trips she remembers going on with Azhar, one to the U.S. when he was playing cricket there, and the other to Derbyshire when he was playing for counties. Even then, it was cricket all the time, and there was no question of them spendmg time with each other.

"But I didn't mind that because I understood it was the price I had to pay for being married to a well known cricketer," remarks Naureen. "Being Mrs Azharuddin was enough for her," says brother Nausheed.

"l wish I had been a little more stubborn and gone out on tours with my husband. I wish I had not been the docile wife he wanted me to be," remarks Naureen, with the wisdom that has dawned too late.

For the first six years of their marriage Naureen had no reason for complaints except that Azhar was seldom at home, so much so that the children hardly knew their father and were even shy of him However, when there was a child's birthday party or a family function Azhar would make sure he was in town. But he changed in the last two years.

The rift, when it came about was not sudden, rather it came in unobtrusively. Naureen began hearing rumours and seeing pictures of Azhar with another woman, but she ignored them hoping they were only rumours. Slowly, he began coming home infrequently, and when he did, he was indifferent to Naureen. She ignored this too since Azhar was not a demonstrative husband anyway.

Neither Naureen nor her inlaws dared to question Azhar, and in the last one year things came to such a stage, that Azhar began to deliberately hurt Naureen. He would go out of the room when she came in or sleep in an upstairs bedroom while Naureen was on the ground floor. There was so much tension in the house everytime Azhar came to Hyderabad that Naureen was forced to go away to her parent's flat and return to her in laws place only after he had left town.

There had been pressure on Naureen to sign the divorce papers for sometime now, but she had resisted for the sake of her two children, Asad, six, and Ayaz four. Whenever Naureen pointed to Azhar his responsibilities as a father, he would tell her that she could leave them in the care of his parents. "Azhar himself was brought up by his grandfather and he thinks it is all right if the children grow up with his parents. He also knows that the children are not attached to him, and hardly miss him."

The divorce papers, however were finally signed recently at Naureen's parents house. "He signed the paper and then Naureen, who came in from the other room crying, signed them. If it had to end, it had to end. I only wish it had ended more gracefully," says Nausheed, who thinks Azhar, while ending his eight year marriage to his sister, could have shown more emotion.

In a few months from now, Azhar will move in with his lady love and start another life. Naureen, except for having some vague plans of doing a course in interior designing, has no clue about how she will cope with her life and two hyperactive boys. Not only that, she is still wondering what was it that Azhar wanted that she, as a wife, could not give him. Did he want her to be more glamorous? Did he want her to attend film parties? If she knew what it was he wanted from her she would have given it to him. But the point is, that for six years she was just the kind of woman be wanted her to be.

Long after the media glare and public attention has been turned away from Naureen, this simple Hyderabad girl will still be wondering how best to get over a broken marriage without blaming herself too much for its failure.

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