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There is this story about an Arab Sheikh who had tens of wives. He had built a very comfortable 5-star Harem for housing his loving wives. He also had a pet bear, not a grizzly just a plain black one. His bear was trained to recognize the wives by their tag numbers and would bring the desired wife to the Sheikh when asked for by her number. “Bring my wife no. 56”, for example, the Sheikh would say and off the bear went trotting bringing wife no. 56. After a while the Sheikh would command, “Take her back and bring my wife no. 25”. On and on and on the fetching and delivering back to the harem continued. After one year the poor bear died. The moral of the story is; “It is not doing it that kills you, it is running after it that gets you”.

My grandfather had three wives, not all at the same time though. But I do know that back then people used to have more than one wife and many children would inevitably be procreated as a result. Contraception was not in vogue. In fact I know of a man from the old country of my grandfather’s time who had three wives, all at the same time, and had over 40 children. You didn’t need to ask his children of their father’s vocation.

When I went to Istanbul’s Topkapi palace I showed my wife the large Harem built by Sultan Mehmed II (1432-1481) which had 400 rooms for his wives and concubines. Of course, he had rooms for the eunuchs too. With such a large coterie of wives you have to have eunuchs. The Sultan had a great time and apparently did not even know how many wives and/or concubines he had. Judging from the size of the harem I would guess there were plenty to run his bear to death. He even had a courtyard of the favorites which overlooked a pool and a garden. The idea of the favorites, by the way, was conceived for the perpetuation of the dynasty. But there was always one who was the almighty favorite favorite wife who would choose which of the many wives or concubines would best suit the Sultan on a certain time. I must say, it was good to be the Sultan then, and come to think of it, even now.

The Mughals from Central Asia, descendents of the great Genghis Khan, had the same great tradition of having multiple wives. Their empire in India began in 1526 where there already was, as part of the local culture, this rich tradition. On the other hand the far off Europeans were much less fortunate in the number of wives they could have which all changed after their arrival to the subcontinent of India in the early 1500s. Portuguese were the first to arrive followed by the French and then the British. Soon after their advent they were exposed to this rich and lovely custom and it did not take much twisting of the arm before they gladly adapted to it. They merrily built for themselves their own harems full of wives, concubines, and maybe eunuchs. Life was pretty simple then for the men and for women too. All a man had to do was build himself a harem and fill it up with woman of all sizes and shapes. He could always do it in reverse order, get himself a few women and then build a harem. Either way the end result was the same – a very happy man. From the historical records that I have seen the women too were pretty happy with the arrangement. No serious competition between them. And if you were a Badshah or a Raja or a Nawab you could even appoint a favorite wife. One downside, the average life expectancy back then was low so you could not go on and on and on even if you had your own bear doing the fetching.

Like the old proverb, ‘all good things come to an end’, the beginning of the end for the European men started in the first half of the 1800s when the British women started to arrive in the subcontinent in large numbers. It took them a good bit of time to chase out all the local wives from the harems of the European white men. In connivance with the men of the cloth and a little help from the only employer, the British East India Company, these white women, by 1857, were in complete control. There still remained some diehards but not much of a threat. The rest, you all know, is history. Which brings us to today when having more than one wife, a custom not looked down upon only a little over a hundred years ago, is considered a heresy. Alas! No more multiple wives. These women could not see us happy and had to spoil a very good thing going for all men folk.

I could further strengthen my case if I told you about the Chinese, the Xias through Hans to all the way down to the Qings. They had even a better thing going for them. No multiple wives, just concubines. Harem was probably called Zijin Cheng (Forbidden City) or some such.

Where do we go from here? We could slowly work our way back to the old traditions that were truly uplifting and kept us pushing the envelope. Plus, if we go by the stats there are more women than men in this world. Ergo all men must have more than one wife. Quod Erat Demonstrandum – normal parlance Q.E.D.

I have this friend, let’s call him ‘R’, who happens to have two wives, one living in USA and the other in his native country. He is a very happy man and tells me that having two wives is a cinch. He couldn’t have been happier. The wives get along quite well whenever they are together, that is.

And then there is this other friend, let’s call him ‘M’, who, taking a lead from R, thinks his happiness index would shoot due north if he had one extra wife. Can’t blame him for thinking that, can you? The problem is that M is a law abiding citizen and according to the local law he needs to have the permission of the first wife in order to get a second one. You can imagine how hard it would be after you have been married for 25+ years. He is a daredevil, nevertheless. He puts in his request. Acceptability near impossible, I thought. Lo and behold he comes out un-bruised. My wife always told me that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. I guess she is right. For now M has to find himself a second wife. He is looking and I am helping. I am thinking of putting in my own request too. What say you?

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Written by Naveed Gilani