Thursday, April 5, 2012

Blasphemy by Tehmina Durrani

Was this woman me?
Who was she?
Who was I?

Some books are written to shed the veil of goodness which a brazenly hypocritical society covers itself in to deceive its innocent occupants.
Some books are written to shed light on that darkness no human dares to transgress onto even at the peak of noon.
Some books are written to shake us out of that ignorant slumber which shows dreams of lasting goodness and faith in the world.

Blasphemy, true to its name, is a prime book belonging to that category.

This book is written by acclaimed Pakistani novelist and women's rights activist, Tehmina Durrani, who took the world by storm after publishing her autobiography, titled, My Feudal Lord. A very strongly recommended book, My Feudal Lord was my first tryst with this woman of enormous courage and substance. In it, she tells the story of her marriage ridden with abuse and violence and oppression to the man who was called the Lion of Punjab (Pakistan)- Mustafa Khar. An eye opener and a deglamorizing expose on the political and personal life of Pakistan's elite, the book was a sharp attack on a system which perpetuated atavistic feudal ideals to the detriment of women and as treachery to the society at large.

However, this post is about Blasphemy, Durrani's third novel, also hailed as her re-entry to the world of controversies. Blasphemy narrates the heart wrenching story of Heer, a teenager married to a Pir who was more than double her age. Pir, or Pir Sain, as he is referred to in the book is a Man of God, revered and worshiped dearly by people. Pir Sain and his Shrine are the only religious authority in an unnamed place where Heer dwells after her unfortunate marriage to him. Pir Sain, though claiming to be a direct descendent of The Prophet (PBUH) has the most convoluted understanding of Islam. While to the world outside he is a holy man, within the confines of his hujra, he is nothing but a compulsive erotomaniac. Before going onto detail the cases of physical and sexual violence which fill Heer's life upon her betrothal to Pir Sain, the book makes an important expose of the business that has been made out of religion; a business running not just on money but on mad drive for pleasures. Exploiting the weak in the name of their God is the most hideous deed, but is performed with nonchalance, pride and authority by Pir Sain.

He exploits the weak outside and within his home. Imposing strict norms of purdah upon the womenfolk of his haveli, it is the same purdah his rips off with indefatigable mad zeal each night, each afternoon and sometimes thrice in a day. Victimized by his tormentor early in her teens, Heer sees the worst kind of sexual, physical, mental and emotional agony as she tries to coexist with Pir Sain in his household as nothing more than a lurking shadow. Pir Sain is depicted in the novel as a man devoid of any emotions. To such extents spreads his stone heartedness that he ends up causing death of his own heir and does not shy away from attempting incest with his own daughter. A mother's relentless battle to protect her children and a women's unending fight to save whatever scrapes of honor she can to face Allah on the Judgement day form the essence of the story of Heer- one that is going to pierce right through you.

More chilling than the gory contents of the book is a single line in the beginning, which proclaims that this novel has been inspired by true life incidents. I don't know how many times while reading this novel have I found myself whispering to whatever divine power exists out there- Let that claim by the author be fake. How can a woman suffer so much violence? How can a man inflict it with such brutality? How can people deceive people with such blatant impudence? How can people deceive their own God, their Allah?

It was not a tale that moved me. It was a take that shook, stirred and angered me. It revealed to me those numerous satanic elements which exist in our society covered in a 'chaddar with 99 names of Allah on it'. We are not completely out of those ages where women were considered nothing but a burden and a commodity to pleasure men. There still exists cultures in our world where a marriage of a daughter is not celebrated because it is shameful to celebrate giving away of a daughter to someone else's bed. Deflowering a girl is an existing mad passion which infests many a twisted minds, and closer home, till date, a girl has to fight one extra battle (at least) if she is to claim what should rightfully be hers. Women are owned, controlled and passed on from hand to hand- as if the whole society has prepared a schematic to forever forbid them of an exclusive identity of their own. Men and women themselves are equally guilty of perpetuating this tradition of insufferable oppression.

I know there exists positive sides in the world. But for now, the quill of Durrani has done its bit to anger me. Written with a simplicity meant to break your hearts into a million pieces, this books shows you how in our world, black is white and white is black. For all the crusaders of women's rights and empowerment out there, this book is very strongly recommended. For those who believe in the rosy picture of life, this book is recommended still- It is always nice to gain an alternate, real, hard hitting perspective on things. For those with weak hearts, stay away from this book. Though not graphic, still the descriptions of sexual violence in this book are so grotesque that they might make your heart scream in horror. I am one with a weak heart and I had to suffer a nightmare. So despite the fact that I am all ga ga over this book at present, a caveat is definitely in order from me.

I don't know if it is apt to rate this book, but I would give it 3 on 5 stars. I just felt somewhere the book had a potential which could not be exploited, from a purely story teller's point of view. Rest, for bringing out such a story to public eye- Bravo!

14 comments:

  1. A novel of this kind from a Pakistani author. She must be a brave lady.

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    1. I am so sure she is. Reading her autobiography fits this image of her's in my mind which inspires me no end. I hope you read and enjoy this novel.

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  2. Tehmina Durrani has written a book which will not be equaled in a century(read it four for a woman writer from Pakistan). Hair raising! Great work!...and Saumya your review compliments it well...great review too!

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    1. You have read Blasphemy? I was particularly interested in knowing how do males react when such a perverse perspective on sex and abuse is presented with heartbreaking honesty and accuracy. Do share with me how you felt upon reading the book.

      Thanks for the compliment on this review :)

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  3. I came across this book recently and when I spotted the title of your post, I simply had to read it. I did not know who Tehmina Durrani was but looking at the book, I could sense what it might be about. Years ago, a read a book on similar lines, called 'Mayada' by Jean Sasson, and more recently, 'A Thousand Splendid Suns'. I share my experience with yours, reading about such atrocities and knowing that this hell happened to someone, somewhere down the line, makes a chill run down your spine.

    Great post.

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    1. I totally share your sentiments. I have not read Mayada, but I have read 'Princess' and 'Daughters of Arabia' by Jean Sasson and they are shocking. A Thousand Splendid Sun is a well acclaimed book and a must read in this genre. Khaled Hosseini has most wonderfully painted a tale of women in Afghanistan to touch and pain the hearts of his readers.

      If you happen to read Blasphemy, do share with me your sentiments about the book, the kind of effect it had on you.

      Thanks for the appreciation.

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  4. had read this book a few years back... I remember how saddening an experience it was thinking this happens in real life.. but the sad truth is, having seen all layers of society while working in a hospital, I have to say it is a lot more common than you imagine.. have heard these and more horror stories in real life too.. makes you realise how far behind we still are in reality... hidden behind some monstrous religious/caste based beliefs..

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    1. True. I am grateful to you Roshan, for sharing your thoughts on that book and also on this hideous aspect of our existence with me. I am sure your experiences outweigh mine by miles, and it only makes me feel that there is still so much in life to see, so much to learn, so much to know. Along with anger, I also experience a sense of gratitude upon reading books like this, for the blessed life God gave me.

      Do keep reading, and keep on sharing your views with me.

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  5. You have given this book such a heart rending review which shows how much you were affected by it. I can't fathom how much more heart rending the book will be. Will definitely read this book! :) Thanks!

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    1. Glad I could inspire you to read it. I would be even more happy if you do share your views when you actually read this book. Do let me know!

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  6. A shocking novel, But it happens in this society. Really an impressive and brave work, hats off tahmeena, you deserve a Nobel prize for writing this novel.

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    1. It indeed is a thought provoking literary work.

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  7. The lady's hair-raising experience with death and after life set me thinking about the border ethos ,I have come across episodes of violence against women primarily in the border area .This belt has shown a violent streak from the times of partition . Dalrymple's The Age Of Kali ,Sidhwa's The Pakistani Bride ,The Ice Candy Man,Baldwin's What the Body Remembers, and Housseini's The Thousand Splendid Suns all reveal the workings of a patriarchal society.Well ,reading Blasphemy lead me back into the portals of of the traditional Zenana (as seen in Chugtai 's The Quilt ) . Islam or for that matter any religion advocate equality for women ,but men generally have gotten away with murder in the name of religion (as in Pritam's Pinjar).

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    1. I have had a date with almost all the literary works you mentioned in the comment, and true, the streak of violence against women which joins them all is at once eye-opening and eye-rending. Blasphemy is one of the foremost books written to rattle the conscience of generally unaware masses

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