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Alternative Realities


Of Religion and Sexuality
KS NARAYANAN | New Delhi, November 1, 2013 17:49
Tags : Nighat M Gandhi |

Popular narratives of Islamist terrorism, talibanization and communal hatred in the mainstream media and 24X7 electronic media often limit perspectives that no life exist beyond medieval barbarism in the Indian Sub-Continent. Against such a background, Alternative Realities by Nighat M Gandhi, a writer, mother, Sufi wanderer and mental health counsellor explore with contentious issues of women, Muslim and their rights to exercise freedom.

Alternative Realities is a travelogue, a memoir, a satire and a feminist critique of Muslim women’s lives, interwoven with the author’s own ongoing struggles as a Muslim woman. Each of dozen chapters presents personal stories of women living in cities, small towns and villages in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh – the three lands to which Nighat Gandhi belongs.

“India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. All three have been my homelands, at different times, for different reasons. I live with the joyous ambiguity of belonging to three nations that were at one time one. My journeys are my struggles to reconnect with the heartrending beauty of all my landscapes, real and imagined, from the past and of the future,” she writes.

In writing their stories, she attempts to break the silence enshrouding Muslim women’s sexuality, and the ways in which they negotiate the restrictions placed on their freedoms within the framework of their culture.

Through stories Nighat chaffs at the tiresome image propagated by the media of the Muslim woman as oppressed, veiled, victimized, with no voice of her own. Nighat begins the book by exploring her own struggle as a woman who dared to make choices that pitted her against her family and cultures. It is peppered with incidents of eating pork pizza and subsequent arguments and interrogation by her father, a devout Muslim. Further this extends to her marriage to an Indian-Hindu in America- Raj and how Nighat on a holiday to Pakistan is kept in strict vigil by her parents. Her escape back to America to join her fiancée is daring and is worth exploring for a movie as well. It has all the masala and a selling formula.

Other stories are equally impressive but probably not for celluloid.

Then there is a story of Firdaus is quite inspiring who as an young girl of 19 decided to divorce her husband (on account of philandering with village girls) along with her a year old toddler and choose freedom. It is evident that was not easy for Firdaus given the social milieu in South East Asia of family tradition and honour and how she failed to get much needed emotional succour from her parents. Years later she finds her second husband getting into dalliances with younger women in Thailand while she kept educating herself and kept growing apart.

A line from Firdaus Haider’s autobiographical essay ‘Saray Mazar doob gayey’ quoted in this book is inspiring.

After her first novel was published her Firdaus’ father wrote to her: ‘Keep writing. You’ll save yourself a lot of suffering’. He was grieving the death of the poet in himself, yet celebrating the birth of the writer in me”.

Firdaus Haider, writer and feminist, who can walk out of a loveless marriage but will not give up on love, with or without marriage.

Move on to other stories where women like Ghazala, who prefers the life of a second wife, ‘living like a married single woman’, to being bound within the ties of a conventional marriage; Nusrat and QT who believe theirs is a normal marriage, except that they are both women and Nisho, who refuses to accept that her trans-sexuality should deny her the right to love.

Alternative Realities is her jihad or struggle to deconstruct the demeaning stereotypes that prevail about all Muslim women. It is a reflection of the myriad ways in which, despite these misogynistic forces, they continue to weave webs of love and peace in their own lives and in the lives of those they live with.

The book is also peppered with quotes and poems from the likes of Bulleh Shah, Rumi, Amir Khusro, Vijaya Mukhopadhyay as it give the strength to characters and lifts readers’ spirit and soul as well.

Each story that Nighat portrays is real, and in no way is figment of her imagination. The narrative runs like a movie as you sift though pages of Alternative Realities, thanks to a good story telling technique. Yet they are not mere stories. Each and every woman present in the book represents a million others and more. All struggle, against dreary daily existence and fight male chauvinism, religious bigotry and conservative laws.

Author: Nighat M.Gandhi

Edition: Paperback

ISBN: 978-93-83260-32-4

Pages: 407

Price: Rs. 350

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017