Published in The Daily Star, Dhaka B.desh, October 27, 07
Love, marriage and hard realities
Mohsena Reza slices through a novel and rediscovers some old truths
When you see the title, A List Of Offences, you tend to believe that it might be a crime thriller. In truth, though, there could not be a more ornamental descriptive narration of picturesque Bangla, of human emotions and of mundane affairs. The cover shows a girl sitting alone on a boat, looking far off and lost. In fact, the portrait depicts the girl’s search for her own identity as an independent human being. Entangled by the roots of the huge banyan tree of the village where she had longed to stay all her life, she muses, “Be a good wife. Please your husband. Give him a child. Obey him. Obey your In-laws. Do not disgrace your parents. Have patience.” These were the magical words that her mother had taught her for a very successful and happy married life!
It all commences from a description of the rural landscape of Gulab Ganga and to the depictions of pathways, rivers and houses. Human physique too has been portrayed in a most amazing form. Family environment, ceremonies throughout the year, description of highlands and lowlands all have been encompassed in this one book. A conservative family like that of Azad Chowdhury is in total contrast to the post-modern clan of the “Babas”, and a medley like this is possible only in the calligraphy of a writer like Dilruba.Z.Ara.
The legend is about a much-longed for daughter who shocks the midwife into wetting her garb, being born with silvery hair. Daria grows up affected by the rumours revolving round the impropriety of her birth. She is born of a woman Jharna Begum who is extremely loyal to all traditional values. But against all odds Daria is adamant to cultivate her own integrity and cut the Gordian knot of rules set by her mother. Daria’s father Azad Chowdhury, with his mundane philosophy of life, has a young man in view for his lovable daughter Daria. She, however, falls in love with handsome Ali Baba, a friend of Mizan. Mizan was rescued by Azad Chowdhury during floods and brought up like his own son, at the same time preparing him to be his son-in-law.
Mizan in the meantime begins to fall in love with Daria who is completely unaware of his deep feelings for her. Daria is tormented by her infatuation for Ali Baba and seeks fulfillment in his arms. A List Of Offences has been appropriately chosen as the name of the book. It is so because this is the turning point in the story. The maid Gulabi did not miss any chance to demean Mizan who in turn made a list of all her brutality. If this list had not been discovered and brought to Azad Chowdhury’s notice, he would not have taken the decision to bring Mizan up like his family member. It was precisely the very cause to send him away for higher studies where the encounter took place between him and Ali Baba.
Consequently they became the best of friends only to accompany him to his village and carry off the princess of Mizan’s dreams. Totally mesmerised by her elegance and simplicity, Ali Baba could think of nothing but to make Daria his lawfully wedded wife.
Ali Baba, a young lawyer born and brought up in the sea-side town, Firingi Para in Chittagong, departs with Daria for Baba Lodge, his ivy mantled house. His post-modern family includes his father, the maladroit one-eyed Kasim Baba, his grandiose sister Rani who seems to harbour quasi-incestuous feelings for her brother and portly Alia, his mother, who is totally frustrated at the recent turn of events.
Daria at first feels lost among the people who chide her for no rhyme or reason, unbelievable but true because she is a country bumpkin. It takes her quite a while to adjust to the weird oddities of her in-laws. Daria is adamant to do so for the sake of her mother, Jharna Begum. Blinded by tradition she carries Ali Baba’s child with the hopeless mission to come closer to her husband. The author at this point introduces a new character, Bina Biswas, who is in fact the epitome of women’s liberation and a revolt against the standard role of women in our society. The tempest within her is the raging fire inside the bosom of every downgraded woman in our society, whose ambitions are not only looked down upon but trampled under the elephant foot of traditional values. It is she who inspires Daria to put her foot down and stand up for her own rights as a mother who would not allow her daughter to lead the same wretched and miserable life that was once her dowry and recompense for not listening to her parents and choosing a life-mate by herself. It is hard to contemplate the end of a story with such diverse characters, and Dilruba Ara has done justice to the cause of women when she gives a revolutionary end to a very ordinary and common happening of a village girl.
The writer, who lives in Sweden and is an accomplished painter, definitely leaves an imprint of her profession and the country she resides in, on her work. It is only for us to discover a totally different style and approach to illustrate the life of the uneducated women of our country.
Mohsena Reza studied English literature at Dhaka University and is involved with social organisations.