Wednesday, April 21, 2010

In the Name of Honour by Mukhtar Mai

‘In the name of Honour’ by Mukhtar Mai first caught my attention at Crossword. I did not buy the book right away because it was only available in hardcover, which made it expensive. So, I made a note and decided to wait for a few months, to be launched in paperback.

Several months later, while going through my wish list, I came across this book again and luckily, it was available online in Paperback. It is a small book, about 180 pages, so I picked it up for reading immediately after finishing the book I was reading.

To me this book is all about the courage and determination of the woman who was supposed to commit suicide after she was subjected to gangrape as a punishment for an “honor crime”. But she survives and overcomes her handicaps to turn into a social activist. Mukhtar Mai is inspiring, and this book stands for all the injustice and atrocities that women are subjected to, in the name of honor.

There are 2 things that come out very starkly in this book – the first is illiteracy. Half the battle is lost due to the fact that several women in the back and beyond of villages are illiterate, and thus are unaware and incapable about fighting or filing cases for the injustice caused to them. The second thing that has been captured vividly is the quantum of violence against women, predominantly rape and murder. In the tribal regions and villages, it is common practice to take vengeance with the other man by raping the women of his family. For years, women have been subjected to all sorts of violence under the guise of ‘justice’.

Mukhtar Mai is a divorced, 28-year old, tribal woman who is subjected to the punishment of gang rape because her 12 year old brother is accused of talking to an upper - caste woman. She contemplates suicide like any other woman subjected to such heinous crime, but unlike them she turns around, stands up and fights for not only her own honour but turns into a social activist and makes the public and the media sit up and take note of such atrocities in the society.

She is not bogged down by the fact that she is illiterate, though she regrets not being able to read, several times in the book. She comes across as an extremely courageous and intelligent woman, who did not let herself be intimidated by the powerful men and the system. Because she is illiterate, it becomes all the more difficult for her to fight her case because she is never sure whether whatever she is saying is getting documented correctly, and she attributes illiteracy a major problem in cases getting registered for such crimes.

Not being political about it, I would just say that It is just a matter of chance that she belongs to Pakistan because 'honour killings' happen everywhere.

Read another review of the book here. I definitely recommend this book. It has been written well and deserves all the attention for the cause it brings forward. 

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Some more books on my shelf (actually beyond shelf now)

People! Get jealous. I have just acquired a host of great books. In fact, even finished reading 1 of them and in the middle of the second one.

Here’s the enviable list:

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
Finally! and quite a fat book it is. Friends at work felt that it was too late for me to read “a suitable boy”; while my husband rummaged through the packing to confirm that it actually was 1 book and not a couple of books! The only thing he had to say was, “forget about reading, I don’t understand how anybody can write so much in the first place!”

In the Name of Honour by Mukhtar Mai
Quite a famous book by now, I had first seen this book in Crossword, on the ‘new releases’ shelf. At that time only the hardcover was available and it was too expensive, so I gave it a miss. Got this for just Rs 252 in paperback. Reading it right now.

Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji
My current favourite is Iran and last couple of books have been in and around it. I came across this book, while hunting for some good books based in Tehran / Iran. I have already finished it and posted a review as well. Quite a good book really.

The Invisibles: A Tale of the Eunuchs of India by Zia Jaffrey
I have already read this book 4 years back while I was in Mumbai. It is a well-written and well-researched book. It really opens your eyes to the world where these “invisibles” belong. A lot of things are horrifying and eye opener. I definitely wanted it in my collection and I will surely re-read it.

Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America And American in Iran by Azadeh Moaveni
Another recommendation on Iran. In fact, I have got a long list of recommendations on good books on Tehran which was published on the back pages of ‘Rooftops of Tehran’. I’m all for it!

Iran Awakening by Shirin Ebadi
Yet another one. Read about the author here. Still awaiting the delivery of the book.

Dreams Die Young by C.V.Raman
I came across this book in The Hindu Book Reviews long time back, but it was ‘out of stock’ on almost all the websites as well as bookstores. I was lucky to re-discover it recently on

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji

Just finished another book based in Tehran – Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji. Unlike the other 2 previous books that I read, this one is a fiction and closer to the genre of ‘The Kite Runner’.

First things first, I liked the book. I finished this 348 page book in 4 days. ‘Rooftops of Tehran’ is essentially a story woven around friends Pasha, Ahmed, Faheemeh, Zari and Doctor. It is a touching story of love, friendship, political turmoil, courage and sacrifice. The story is narrated through the voice of Pasha, whose name you don’t get to know for a very long time. Nevertheless, the story succeeds in touching an emotional chord with the readers. The emotions that the protagonists go through can be true for anybody of their age in any part of the world, while at the same time, the story also creates a rich and vivid kaleidoscope of Iranian culture.

The back cover rightfully describes it as ‘an unforgettable novel of young love and coming of age in a nation headed towards revolution’. Pasha spends several moments of love and longing on his rooftop, in the relatively conservative Iran. Although the summer afternoons spent together by Pasha, Zari, Ahmed and Faheemeh sound unrealistic in the conservative Tehran, where so much time spent between unrelated young boys and girls can only be frowned upon; but one can overlook such things in this richly woven story of young love, Pasha’s guilt of falling in love with Zari who happens to be engaged to Doctor - his friend and mentor, his longing for her and so on. There are some potions that try to add humour but seem a bit forced.

For me, this novel was about understanding the contemporary Iran during 70s. I personally know very little about the history and culture of this politically disturbed country. You cannot help but feel sorry for the young people who are not free to express themselves, the schools are controlled, the expressions are controlled, so that you do not fall out of line with the government. The people of Iran have seen and gone through unimaginable violence for people and their families who opposed government.

Read more about the book here.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks

Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks has the cover page strikingly similar to the last book that I read ‘Prisoner of Tehran’. But the reason I picked up this book was because it promised a glimpse into “the Hidden World of Islamic Women”.

It is an interesting non-fiction account of the author’s interactions with women from several Muslim countries – their lives, the rituals, rules, regulations.

Geraldine Brooks treads the middle path of questioning the things passed on as religion while rationalizing some of the regressive aspects of the Muslim countries.

It was interesting to note what Geraldine’s colleague Asya had to say in justifying the role of burqa - ‘burqa-clad women are treated as equals based on their intellect not as sex objects.’

The book discusses the origin of a lot of practices like child marriage, polygamy, role of women, etc and their relevance in today’s society.

Frankly a general non-Muslim understands this culture only so much, but surely to world’s second largest population it must make sense. Even the most popular books that have come out on Muslim countries, have done little to create a good picture, say Not without my daughter, for example.

Geraldine attempts to strike a balance between criticizing the customs that stifles an individual’s (read woman’s) rights, and yet not being too judgmental about Muslim women who are comfortable in the safety of their ‘hijab’.

Personally, I learnt a lot about women in Muslim countries and I think this book will appeal to everyone who has interests in studies related to culture, religion and women. There are horrifying rituals, unbelievable stories, unjustifiable customs accepted and followed the world over. I think the book surely does some justice to the genre. In fact there are stories of several courageous women who overcame the limitations of hijab and participated in sports, politics, education and public affairs, which will appeal to the readers.

I also came across this interesting write up which is ‘a Muslim response to the book’.