Wednesday, June 10, 2009
MEYEBELA MY BENGALI GIRLHOOD BY TASLIMA NASRIN
I was curious after all I’ve read about Taslima Nasrin whether or not she is actually a good writer or whether or not she is just rubbish….The unfortunate victim of her own hype and the fact that reading one of her books has become a political act associated with freedom of speech and fighting censorship and religious based persecution by fundamentalist zealots.
So I read the first volume of her autobiography MEYEBELA MY BENGALI GIRLHOOD by Taslima Nasrin….I judge this book two ways…. One of course being how it is written stylistically….The other being does it accomplish the goal set out for it….In other words, Taslima Nasrin uses her own childhood as a means of exploring how Islam causes women to be treated as second class citizens (using her own country Bangladesh as the model).
Taking the latter goal first, I’m not sure Nasrin is entirely successful….Me reading this book is preaching to the converted….I don’t have any problem with telling the truth about religion….It isn’t just Islam….Any religion taken to the extreme or allowed to mingle with government without the protections of a secular democratic state would be just the same as what is described about Islam in this book….There is nothing that holds the world back more in the areas of social justice, science, really any area that humans wish to move forward and advance themselves in than religion.
And there are a number of powerful scenes in this book….From the way Islam enshrines a man’s dominance over women to how it covers up sexual harassment (Nasrin herself is molested twice by two different uncles) by not allowing women to complain….One of my favorite parts of the book is the scene where Neal Armstrong lands on the moon and her mother tells her this is nonsense and devil talk….The anti-science attitude of Islam is well described here.
However, while I feel the Islam part is handled well, it’s not the only motivation for events happening the way they do….Other striking scenes in the book are the ones where Taslima’s mother abuses the series of domestic servants she has throughout the book….This takes the form of slaps and kicks and never paying them the wages they have earned….Taslima’s parents are well-off by Bangladeshi standards (her father is a doctor) and their position in society allows them to get away with this.
I guess it’s the chicken and egg question but the question of socio-economic justice and disparity are just as important societal factors….In other words, not at all mistreatment can be attributed to religion….Some have even deeper roots such as class structure..
One of the more interesting characters in the book is Taslima’s Uncle Siddique who questions Islam, the way the poor are treated and a number of other issues that are not normally questioned….He is described as later becoming a Communist and editing a Communist magazine.
Technically speaking, Taslima Nasrin is a good writer filled with passion who occasionally misses a few of the finer points….For example, sometimes she introduces a character but doesn’t flesh them out enough so when we see their eventual fate we don’t care as much….Also she will introduce a large number of characters at the beginning of a scene who are important but not tell us how they relate to her until later in the chapter or even in the next chapter….Still, her mind holds many vivid memories that she ably records.
I particularly find her father, a walking contradiction, memorable….On one hand, a dictatorial tyrant who is also a philanderer cheating on Taslima’s mother throughout but on the other hand a doctor and a man who values education over all other things and encourages I would say more forces Taslima to do well in her studies….As Taslima’s two older brothers didn’t live up to expectations, she is expected to carry the mantle of physician forward (in real life, Taslima Nasrin was a doctor before she was a writer).
In the pages of MEYEBELA MY BENGALI GIRLHOOD , one can also see the birth of an independent thinker, a feminist for sure but I would say even more simply put someone who believes in basic human rights….I’m looking forward to reading further volumes of her autobiography.
For those who wish to support Taslima Nasrin… http://taslimanasrin.com/