Revenge by Taslima Nasrin

I heard Taslima Nasrin talk when I was in grad school ten years ago, and the memory has stayed with me since. Nasrin read from from her (then) new work, Amar Meyebela; as with all her writing, this one too called to account patriarchal Bangladeshi society. And inevitably, she got some members of the audience all riled up–one student stated that since he’d never witnessed any such thing growing up in Bangladesh, she had to be wrong. What I remember most: her steely, detached calm as she answered him, and her utter unconcern for how he (we)  might judge her. She’d been exiled from Bangladesh, gone into hiding, and had faced death threats from extremists; understandably, she was unlikely to set much store by censure from this audience. I also remember that she never smiled during the entire talk.

Revenge, titled Shodh in the original Bengali, was first published   in 1992, and the translation was brought out by The Feminist Press, New York, in 2010. I reviewed the book for Herizons magazine last year.

***

When Jhurmur, a spirited Bangladeshi girl weds her boyfriend Haroon after a passionate courtship, she believes she’ll be happy. She was raised to think for herself, she’s well-educated, and she’s sure of Haroon’s love and commitment. A woman’s chance at marital happiness, however, is always a gamble in a patriarchal society, and Jhurmur learns she must be a bou (daughter-in-law) first and a wife second.

Haroon was an ardent suitor who wooed her patiently, but post-marriage, regards her with suspicion for having succumbed to his courtship. He isolates her from her friends and family, refusing to let her go out to work, telling her to concentrate on the household instead. Financially dependent on Haroon and fearful of the consequences of divorce, Jhurmur acquiesces to Haroon’s emotional abuse. But when Haroon denies he’s fathered her baby and insists on an abortion, Jhurmur is roused out of her complaisance and plots her revenge.

As with all of Taslima Nasrin’s books, Revenge is primarily an indictment of the patriarchal mores of the author’s native Bangladesh. Education has always been seen as the answer to such societal ills, but in this novel, Nasrin acknowledges a very basic truth: education isn’t a path to women’s empowerment unless it provides a chance at economic independence. In Haroon’s home, Jhurmur’s degree merely gives her “a rather irrelevant superiority” over the household’s other daughter-in-law, a girl who’d barely finished secondary school. But when Jhumur finally gets a job, she views it as a sign that she’s finished with a life of submission, and that her husband will now understand that she “will no longer stand for his cruelty”.

Jhurmur is a complex character, with enough moral ambiguity to rise above the caricature of a subaltern employing western-style feminism to attain “liberation”, and the manner of her revenge poses an interesting question for the reader: does it truly count as revenge when the principal has no recognition of the act? Jhurmur is delighted at comprehensively betraying her husband–who, oblivious of her actions, is content with his lot. Perhaps Nasrin is just being pragmatic here–if Jhurmur’s secret were discovered, the social consequences would be devastating; secret rebellions must suffice till the revolution arrives. That we’re left feeling discomfited is testament to Nasrin’s refusal to look for easy answers to deep-rooted issues.

13 responses to “Revenge by Taslima Nasrin

  1. Wow, this sounds like a great read. I love that she’s avenging herself and he’s completely oblivious to this. Putting it on my TBR list.

  2. I read this last year and it certainly gives a lot to think about doesn’t it? I really enjoyed it, and it highlighted for sure the need for economic rights as well. Her revenge was really all her own – though I couldn’t help too imaging her twenty, thirty years down the road telling her husband when he was doing poorly in health or something.

  3. @Jenn: Very powerful! I hope you decide to review after reading it!
    @Amy: Yeah…but I wonder if they’ll both mellow out as they’re older? That she’ll be happy with her job and her marriage, and kind of call the revenge quits, if the husband doesn’t go back to his asinine ways…

  4. Love the sound of this one. I have read reviews of a few of Nasrin’s books, have them in my wishlist, but never really read any of those. I’ll try to check this one out.

  5. “That we’re left feeling discomfited is testament to Nasrin’s refusal to look for easy answers to deep-rooted issues.”

    This statement of yours, in particular, heightens my interest in this work; as a reader who is just caught up in a story, I often crave a different kinds of ending, but, in all, the books that I most admire are those which do not offer simple satisfaction, and as a thinker, the stories that left me feeling distinctly uncomfortable are the world-changing reads that I truly crave.

  6. It’s an unsettling book; I think you could debate for hours about the method and consequences of her revenge. And yes, I’m the same way–sometimes i just like a simple story with a neat ending, but they don’t stick with me the way the more complicated ones do.

  7. Nice review.
    I read Lajja with great anticipation in view of the ‘notoriety’ of the book among fundamentalist, but was disappointed with it.
    Sure the point she raises there are genuine, but her treatment of the story seemed quite ordinary to me, especially when she reads out pages filled with statistics as if from government archives. the literary flavor, essential for creating biting satire and pathos, is entirely missing.

    • I agree that Nasrin’s primary appeal isn’t in her prose–I don’t read her books for the literary flavor either; more as a sociological narrative. I also find her intriguing as a person, so I read her work to hear what she has to say.
      Thanks for commenting!

  8. What a brave woman she is! I would love to read this book.

  9. Pingback: Nasrin taslima | Learndoteach

  10. She is actually a good writer, that is what I have head from people who read and speak Bengali.

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