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This is a critical appreciation of Taslima Nasrin’s poem in Celebrating India Love without Borders published by Nivasini Publishers. Everything said here is my personal interpretation and should not be taken as the publisher’s or poet’s point of view.
Fire by Taslima Nasrin
He is my husband, the dictionary says that he’s
chief, lord, master, et cetera et cetera
Society agrees that he is my god.
My doddering old husband has learned well
the prevailing rules and regulations to exert
He’s very eager to stroll over the bride of
to the glittering realm of paradise,
he wants all kinds of fruits, brightly-coloured
cordials and delicious foods,
he lusts after
the fair-skinned bodies of bouris to chew, suck
Nothing’s written on my forehead but ill fate,
I spend my lifespan in society thrusting chunks
into the oven of these earthly days.
In the afterlife I see my doddering husband
exult over the seventy-seven pleasures of sex.
I am alone, in the joyous garden of paradise I’m
Watching the blind obscenity of men
I burn inside in the everlasting fires of hell,
a chaste and virtuous woman.
At the face of it, what might come across as a purely feminist point of view, hides within its covers, a much deeper meaning than the subject of the poem, that being, the subjugation of women by men because society too supports and propagates this way of life. Whether a man is lame, old, deaf or dumb, his position, vis-a-vis women is always that of superiority. Taslima Nasrin laments this position and burns with anger within, yet must accept this as her ‘fate’ because, the man in her poem is her husband. And although she is seething inside, she must bear silently, as he enjoys all the luxuries of life, including his enormous appetite for women and sex.
But, if one looks deeper, the reader may see many other levels to this poem. For instance, from a psychological point of view, there is forever a conflict within the mind, between the norms of society outside and the desires of the female body inside. And although she herself is capable of far more intensity in love and sex, women allow the norms of society to bind them. The pleasure deriving sexual object she can luxuriate in, is in deep conflict within her, and must find her expression, mostly out of the normative framework of society, rather than within it. Hence, standing on the periphery and talking of the chains she is bound in, is to some extent, in my opinion, redundant.
From a philosophical point of view, the purusha/prakriti, outside/inside dynamics is the larger picture of the world. There is an inherent attraction/resistance in the very coexistence of these two phenomenons. What Taslima Nasrin does not spell out in her poem is what she is doing about this state of injustice. Seething in anger, but bearing it silently, because it is her ‘fate’ is a passive reaction to the situation. Unless she is willing to turn a submissive to an active, the purpose of lamenting the state is uninspiring.
From a personal point of view, the poet’s lamentation is indicative of her own state of being, the prisoner in her own body, which might agitate but is far from being free of the shackles that a male dominated society has bound around her. Thus, the poem expresses in no uncertain terms, her anger, which we can easily assume to be directed towards herself, only.
Taslima Nasrin, is a doctor by profession, who prefers to follow her passion for writing prose and poetry and is socially involved in bringing about change through the power of the written word. She shot to fame when she authored Lajja, which brought forth the wrath of the clergy in her own land, Bangladesh and ever since, she has been a resident of many lands. “In 1992, she won a major Kolkata literary Award for a collection of her co-ed columns and essays that criticised political leaders, literacy figures, and conservative religious values that conspired to oppress women.” (pg 183, Celebrating India Love Without Borders). Between these years she attempted to seek asylum in India, living in Kolkata, but was finally not granted it. Her heart wrenching plea that she found Kolkata closest to her ‘home’ went debated, but not granted.
“Because of her thoughts and ideas she has been banned, blacklisted and banished from Bengal, both from Bangladesh and West Bengal part of India. She has been prevented by the authorities from returning to her country since 1994, and to West Bengal since 2007.” ( See HERE )
Needless to say, the anger inside her must be so self-consuming, that it has tinted her tongue and her poem. It is her own state of alienation she is speaking of in the poem, where she is the protagonist, the shackled prisoner burning in anger, the woman.
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