Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Shodh by Taslima Nasreen


Shodh (Getting Even)/Taslima Nasrin. Translated by Rani Ray. New Delhi, Srishti Publishers & Distributors, 2003, 227 p., $11 (pbk). ISBN 81-88575-05-4.

Exiled (and now hounded in the very place that allowed her to take refuge) Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen is perhaps more skilled at irking Muslim fundamentalists than she is at writing. I don't mean any disrespect, but after having read "Shodh" (getting even), I would say her writing is very average, however, it is the subject matter of her novels that gets everyone talking.

In "Shodh", Jhumra, a well-educated Bangladeshi girl marries her boyfriend Haroon. Haroon lives with his parents and when they marry, Jhumra is expected to live with them like any other Bangladeshi woman. But life with her in-laws is claustrophobic. She is not allowed to go anywhere unveiled and as the "bou" (daughter-in-law) of the house she is expected to do all the cooking, cleaning,etc. In other words, she is her mother-in-law's handmaiden. Jhumra's independent streak does not take kindly to this and the last straw is when she is forced by her husband to abort her first baby because he insists that it couldn't be his own (he finds it impossible that Jhumra could have conceived within 6 weeks of marriage). To get even with him, Jhumra has an affair with a neighbor and when she conceives for the second time (this time Haroon is delighted), she passes the baby off as Haroon's knowing full well that it is not. It is in this way that she "gets even" with Haroon.

Nasreen takes great delight in painting the South Asian men as ignorant boors who want (and for the most part get) subservient wives who literally live and breathe just for them. Almost all the characters in this book are thoroughly dislikable and although I understand that the author is trying to make a point about gender discrimination in many South Asian societies, I find that the lack of any truly likeable character in the novel makes for a rather imbalanced read.

However, I did not see any reason why fundamentalists should attack this particular book so vehemently. As far as I could see there was no insults heaped upon Islam or anything like that. The entire controversy makes you ask if we (those of us that live in a free society) bear the responsibility to protect public intellectuals who examine and question the undesirable customs and traditions of a society or must they be sacrificed at the altar of religion?

Who is Taslima Nasreen and how did she become controversy's child?

According to the Guardian:

Her own experience of sexual abuse and her work as a gynaecologist in Bangladesh - where she routinely examined young girls who had been raped - informs her angry writing about the treatment of women in Islam and against religion in general. Her most famous novel, Lajja (Shame), focused on state-sponsored persecution and violence against Bangladesh's Hindu minority and sparked off protests which led to the proceedings against her. Her four volumes of sexually explicit memoirs - still banned in Bangladesh - and outspoken newspaper articles have also fueled her notoriety.

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