The lady on the bus
The Bus screeched to a stop, and I jerked to wake up to find a single passenger at this stop. My vision was still a little blurred after my short nap. Before I could rub my eyes and take a tiring look at the new passenger, there was a heated whispered conversation coming from my left, which grabbed my attention.
Well, I'm not proud to say it, but like they say, Bengalis have longer ears than anything, when it comes to picking up gossip from thin air.
“One more, oh god forbid, it's a shame to even sit in the same bus as these ****s.”
“You think this is bad? Oh, my god you should see how they dress up and move about in broad daylight, shopping and drinking, like any regular person…almost as if they are one of 'us'. And imagine, she is someone's daughter, someone's mother…someone's wife.”
“I'd rather murder my daughter and die of poverty, than have a ..a….to feed my family”
I could hear no more. After that, whether it was plain curiosity, or something else, I don't know, but I turned to look at the person who had brought on such heated gossip, in the otherwise dull bus-ride.
It was past midnight. She walked steadily, along the side of the road, in her brilliant, red, saree, and sparkling fake jewelry. The road was mostly deserted, other than the few regular customers at the tea stall.
She had no time today. Not for anything. She walked swiftly past, trying not to catch anyone's attention. But, in the usual terms, that was quite impossible. She was stopped by one of the men there. But, like she knew, she had to leave, even money wouldn't let her stop now. As she forced her way through, the others joined in. And she had no choice. This was no more a deal,…no give and take/
It was nearing one. She creaked open the old, battered wooden door of her hut. And before she could turn back and close it shut, she felt a burning blow on her back.
She cried out in pain, tears welling into her eyes. But, there was nothing she could do. As she was beaten to his heart's wish, she lay on the floor cowering. And as she got one last hard blow on the forehead, she slowly stood up, and handed over what he had ordered her to bring. And then, handing him her day's worth, she went over to the kitchen to cook for her husband. After all, he would be hungry.
Next morning, she began her routine, She went over to the house where she cooked as a part time maid. She would get her monthly pay today, and be able to send it home to her mother. Even the thought of her mother sometime brought tears to her eyes. Her childhood was almost a dream..
But, she had entered a nightmare now. And this was eternal. Huh! She would hear snide comments, every now and then, and people would even say that death is much better than such a shameful life. Yes. It was true. She admitted it. But, what they didn't know was that, for her, suicide was a luxury. An easy option to ease herself of the endless nightmare. She had gone very far, when there was only a sleek, sharp, metal knife between her, and the world she would urged to leave. But she couldn't. She could not imagine her sister in her position, when there would be no one to feed them. She would either die of poverty, or set foot in the path that SHE was now in. She couldn't bear to imagine her mother, hungry and old. Suffering from the poverty that she had to desperately tried to save her family from. She thought of her husband. He would die of hunger too. He was limp, and therefore, could not work. She lived this nightmare every single day, because she knew, it would not be her life that would drip away with her blood, but she would be ruining the life of the people she loved.
At the place where she worked, her 'apa' would often tell her that she was being a fool, to let her husband beat her every night. To torture her, when he should be grateful, that she was the one earning, she was doing what she was because of him. Apa said she was acting weak, to let him hurt her like this.
But, she knew better. After such accusations, she would often smile, through the burns and bruises n her face, and say, 'apa, do you know why he beats me? Because he loves me a lot. And, cannot bear the idea of me with any other man. But, he also knows, without this, he would die of poverty and hunger. The only way he can express it is by beating me. So, when there is so much love in this pain, tell me, how can I say anything to him.”
Her employer would just stare at her. As if she was insane. As if, she talking rubbish. But, somewhere in her heart, she knew, this was one more reason she lived. She knew, no matter how much it hurt, that she was still loved by someone, in this world full of hatred for people like her.
Maybe, if I had seen her before hearing that whispered gossip, I would also have thought the same as the two elderly men seated there. But now, all I saw was a woman.
A woman, like my mother, like my sister, like any other woman I knew. Yes, there was a difference. A big difference. The difference was in the way they were treated. The way they were looked down upon, like a germ, like a black spot on out perfect picture of a civilized society. The difference lay in the eyes of us unworthy people who dared say things about them. They were much stronger. Far more stronger than those cowards, who gave their lives to escape this nightmare. Far more stronger than us, who would never have been able to face life like they did. We are to be grateful, that we never had to face what they did.
That day, in the bus, I saw a woman, whose strength I wished to acquire one day, so that like her...I could face the cruelties of life...as bravely.
By Faria Ahmed
One reason why I don't regret turning yet another year older is because a birthday invariably means more books, and I made quite a killing this month!
This year, I had, along with some friends from my university, invited people from my theatre group for dinner. There are two other people in the group with the same name as mine, and I was smilingly thinking back on this fact as I opened the gifts, and found Jhumpa Lahiri's much-anticipated first novel peeking at me from the gift bag. No points for guessing which book I started reading first.
To be honest, I was never too fond of the whole 'Asian immigrant experience' genre. Zadie Smith's celebrated White Teeth had an ending that was neither here nor there, while I found Monica Ali's very controversial Brick Lane way too depressing. And then there's Bharatee Mukherjee, with her collection of morbid short stories. I have a lot of respect for those ground-breaking authors, but hello! People have gone and settled abroad and are leading reasonably normal, happy lives! I remembered Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies, which I actually liked, so I figured The Namesake couldn't be too bad.
The story centres around Gogol, who earned his daak-naam-turned-bhalo-naam from Nikolai Gogol, a Russian writer his father was particularly fond of. Born in America, struggling to find his identity, he grows to despise his name, which is neither American, nor Indian, and struggles to shrug it off. Just as he struggles to shrug off the quaint customs and traditions of his parents, who were never able to properly assimilate with the place that became their home. Yes, it is another story about another ABCD (American Born Confused Deshi), but it is more than another sad immigrant story. The Namesake is about finding oneself, be that self a son, a lover, a husband, an Indian, an American, or anything else. It treats identity as an amorphous issue, as it should be, and tells a tale as rich and flavorful as Ashima Ganguli's lamb biriyani.
Jhumpa Lahiri's writing is easy and comfortable to read. She doesn't attack her readers with a deadly arsenal of literary words and phrases the way Arundhati Roy sometimes does. Her imagery and description are pleasing to the senses, quite unlike Monica Ali's disgusting depiction of Nazneen's husband's dandruff problems in Brick Lane. The story too, isn't idealised in the manner of Hollywood-Bollywood, or The Guru, or any of those crossover films; neither is it unnecessarily depressing and negative like Bharatee Mukherjee's Darkness. It is a very real story, the kind you might expect to hear from your khala or chachi here on vacation from the States.
So if you're looking for a book that has the rich sensuality of Sub-continental literature, without being overly depressing and negative, please give The Namesake a try.
By Sabrina F Ahmad
Struggle through the years
Sent to me as a blessing.
By Osama Y. Rahman
By Adnan M. S. Fakir
| Issues | The Daily Star Home|
© 2006 The Daily Star