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A Story of a Woman's Revenge
-‘Shodh’ by Taslima Nasreen
|by Prof. Shubha Tiwari|
‘Shodh’ presents a micro world of a woman where husband, ma-in-law, neighbors etc. hold a paramount position. Analyzing ‘Shodh’ was not easy for me. It is a very flat piece of writing. Thought content of a novel is its main strength. It does not mean that a novelist should philosophize unnecessarily. Actions as they are depicted and characters as they behave must evoke ideas. The words must be pregnant with something indecipherable, something beyond. Something should be left unsaid. Something must hang in the air of a novel. The reader must be compelled to respond, to identify, and to get affected. A novelist must know how to move laughter, and tears in a reader.
Well, there is no suggestive provocation in this novel. Everything is brutally articulated in very concrete and corporeal words. That is Taslima Nasreen for us - a male Salman Rushdie. Here is a woman who does not distinguish between self, body and identity. They are one and the same for her. Perhaps it will not be wrong to call her a body obsessed woman. She is full of self-love, self-pity, and also full of revenge against the one who has violated her dignity. That is all. May I be allowed to say that she is not at all mentally challenging.
Paradigmatically the novel enforces the traditional, conservative, and quite unfair view of women. It depicts a woman as secretive, cunning, revengeful, incapable of open and bold revolt, incapable of anything except carrying on a hidden relationship with another man in order to avenge the husband’s cruelty. The novel revolves around cynical sayings like ‘Don’t trust a servant, and a husband’ or ‘men go for physical relationships without love’ and all such absurd stuff. The novel does not elevate. It reduces. It zeroes down possibilities of companionship, love and sharing. It cuts off trust, the very basis of life. The cover page shows a pair of scissors and it rightly suggests that the novel tries to tear apart faith in human goodness. Whether it does it effectively or not is a different question. But it certainly tries to do that.
The story reminded me of one of Amrita Pritam’s short stones where the maid sleeps with the groom to avenge all insults. The maid and the daughter of the house are of the same age. They grow together but the daughter never forgets to remind the maid of her lower status. On the wedding night amidst all hustle bustle the maid slips into the groom’s room. All her life she has been eating the leftover of the daughter of the house. Now it is the daughter’s turn to taste the leftover husband. And if I remember correctly the name of the story is Joothan (left over). These are chilling tales of the revenge of the female. Whether one finds them of good taste or not depends on the personal inclination of the reader.
Most men in India believe in this cunning intelligence of a woman. A simple explanation follows that all this purdah system, house- imprisonment sort of living arrangement, escorting while moving out and various other restrictions imposed on women are an expression of this basic distrust. To carry the argument further, the condition of the subjugated and confined woman is actually against the fundamental laws of Nature. But once fallen prey to these centuries’ old institutions of distrust, most women lose the power to imagine any shift from the present paradigms. So survival of a housebound woman depends on authority and hold over men- husbands and sons.
Convention has succeeded in turning women against themselves. Thus result the trends of preference for the male child in women, conniving in female feticide, demanding dowry and so on and on. This manly perception of women of their community is an alarming anomaly. Taslima is no exception. Her view of life revolves around these faded, accepted, often misplaced idioms of understanding life. She accepts the role of a woman as the prime mover in family politics. Victimization on one hand and revenge within the four walls of home on the other are the two poles between which the narrative of ‘Shodh’ moves.
If Salman Rudie calls Taslima an advocate of free love, I will call her an outright hedonist. It is shocking to see this woman’s vision not progressing beyond burly bodies and hairy chests. The body image as reflected in ‘Shodh’ calls for an urgent sorting out of the concept Body as a means of celebrating life has been an old Eastern view. We have always taken this human form to be a gift from God. Its proper care has always been one of our concerns. One whole caste (nau) in the Indian caste system is for the fine keeping of the body - massaging, oiling, perfuming. The traditional Western view, on the contrary has not been that complementary to the body. Not only that the body is considered a dirty container, it is also isolated and separated from other things. Western concept of identity formation begins when the child views her/himself as a distinct creature, different from all others. Eastern view says that the body is a formation of Pancha tatva, the five elements, namely, sky, water, fire, earth, and. wind. We have an extended identity concept where family, trees, animals, in fact, the whole cosmos participates. Therefore we do not have much problem when a woman is referred to as Ma, bou (daughter-in-law), Haroon’s wife, Habib’s bhabhi, Ananda’s mother, or Sebati’s neighbor. Taslima parrots the Western concept of identity when she says,’ I woke up with a start. No one in the house mentioned me by my name, everyone called me Bhabhi. It gave me such a thrill! I realized I had a name, an identity. His calling me Jhumur Bhabhi made me feel I was a distinct person who had gone to the university and had collected so many degrees.’(95)
Feminism for some is passion; for others it is a profession. I am skeptical about the feminism of those who take it as a profession. It seems our society is being torn apart by unthinking extreme attitudes. Politicians are out to encash just everything. Feminism becomes women’s reservation bill and abolishment of caste system becomes quota system. Things get distorted beyond limits. Issues are hardly recognized in their original form. Concern for Dalits is now a political tool, a tool to further wrongs. So it is with feminism. ‘Shodh’ is said to be having autobiographical elements, If so, we have all sympathy for Taslima. In fact, bitter experiences produce bitter feminists. But then a thinking mind has to decide how far it can allow the negative side of life to dictate thinking. Jhumur turns all her qualifications, her education, her exposure against her happiness, against her own self. She declares,’ Wives and daughters! Pay heed! Academic skills don’t count with the in-law.’(44)
One problem with this brand of feminism is the end of such conditions as described above. We no longer have forced dress code on daughters-in-law. You no longer connect. If the argument is based on thought, it has a longer appeal.
Sebati is Jhumur bosom friend. She is a doctor. All the patients of Sebati that Taslima refers are victims of a female’s biological fate. I could not help noting that not a single case of Sebati has any healthy, positive condition. Taslima’s brand of feminism does not leave any space for happiness. Even good things start looking bad. Our sub-continent has various ceremonies for a carrying woman. So many celebrations are held to mark different stages of pregnancy. What can be bad about these practices? But no, Taslima is angry that all the caring is actually not for the pregnant woman but for the child inside her, ‘But I know for certain that the amulet and the darud are not to wish me well; they are for the well-being of Haroon’s child’. (203)
1. Nasrin, Taslima 2003, ‘Shodh’ (translator, Rani Ray) New Delhi: Shrishti.
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Prof. Shubha Tiwari
07/01/2013 10:00 AM
07/01/2013 05:06 AM
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