Taslima Nasrin was born Mymensingh, Bangladesh in 1962. After taking a degree in Dhaka Medical College, she turned to writing. She has published several volumes of Poetry and non-fiction. But Nasrin is probably best known for her works in fiction, where the most famous works are “Lajja – Shame” and “Shodh”. Nasrin is known for being a fiery feminist, whose works deal mostly with oppression. “Lajja -Shame”, for example, told the story of a Hindu family who become victims of violence they receive from fundamentalist Muslims. In case you don’t know, Hindus are a minority in Bangladesh and have faced extreme violence both in 1990 and 1992 riots in Bangladesh. Nasrin lives in exile, in Europe. She has gotten a fatwa for being critical of the religious oppression towards women.
I’ve read both “Lajja” and “Shodh”. “Lajja” was decent, and had a good plot and good intention, but as a fictional work didn’t really capture me. “Shodh”, however, was brilliant. The word “Shodh” means “getting even”, and tells a rather complex revenge tale. It starts with Jhumur, a young woman with a good education, marrying the first man she falls in love with. She becomes pregnant and tells her husband, hoping to make him happy, but he instead in confusion starts accusing her of cheating on him before they got married, since they have only been married for six weeks and it is “not possible to become pregnant in six weeks”. Since Jhumur has had male friends, her husband assumes she has had an affair with one of them. He takes her to an abortion clinic and forces her to take an abortion. The incident leaves deep mental wounds, especially since she has allowed herself to become a housewife, not be in touch with her old friends and family, and lets his mother boss her around. She has done everything for him and he in turn shames her by accusing her of infidelity. The incident haunts her and drives her having an affair, in attempt to get even, but she realizes her chances of truly getting even are slim, for the society she lives in doesn’t give women any other chance but to serve men and be housewives, while men can do as they please.
“Shodh” is told in an angry and bitter, but not self-pitying voice. Jhumur takes out her revenge only to see that it ultimately is useless. She, as all women around her, is chained to the home. Jhumur makes sharp examinations of the women around her. She envies Afzal, the man she has an affair with, for his freedom to paint and travel. She sadly realizes that her husband doesn’t really care much about her; he just wants children (mostly a son). An interesting way how Nasrin keeps are sympathy with Jhumur is how her husband is shown never to tell her anything, not even what he does for a living. Jhumur states that he is a business man and that he goes to “the office” every morning, yet refuses to tell her what he does, since she wouldn’t understand it. It is also easy to sympathize with Jhumur when she describes how her husband keeps reminding her of the abortion by saying “soon we’ll have a child of our own”. You can’t help but understand why Jhumur does what she does to get even; she has no other way to get back for the cruelty she receives.
Nasrin is also surprisingly understanding towards Afzal, the man Jhumur has an affair with. Nasrin shows him as being in love with Jhumur and wanting to be with her, asking her to run away with him. Jhumur says no since she doesn’t love him, which leaves Afzal heartbroken.
“Shodh” is an interesting take on the position women are in. How they are forced into lives that are not for them, but for the men they marry. Jhumur rebels in the only way she can, but since her life is still not her own it brings her no real satisfaction – or not very much.
But the book is not completely pessimistic; Nasrin believes that women, if they only want to, rise up against the oppression that is inflicted upon them. Jhumur finds a way to be independent even if she is married.
On a last note I’ll like to mention Monica Ali’s “Brick Lane”, which also is about a Bengali woman who finds her own way to be independent while being married. This book is pretty good too, but I think I enjoyed “Shodh” better. It is more sharp and biting in its critic of the world. It also has a clearer ending. “Brick Lane” is more comic and not as brutal, which might explain why it is better known than “Shodh”. But personally, I think “Shodh” is a lot more interesting in its subject.