It was my younger one’s birthday and we took her to the bookstore. “Choose any book you like”, I told her. She was delighted – of course, what better gift than books ! After 10 mins, she came up with The Book of Fate by Parinoush Saniee and Shikhandi by Devdutt Patnaik. I was surprised yet happy at the same time. She had chosen two different genres and I loved the contradiction.
While she took some time to start reading the first book, she just couldn’t keep it down, once she started. Every now and then, she’ll come and just pour out her emotions to me, saying that things are not fair with women in Iran. She couldn’t handle the lives of women which were being dictated by men, the society and also by large, the religion. Where is the individual woman’s happiness??, she asks. And when she finished the book, all she could fume about was how selfish children turn to be in their later years. Instead of gifting their mother with happiness, all they could do was stomp it away with their talks on societal customs on how a widow should hold on to her husband’s image and heroism. The more she talked about, the more intrigued I was. Even though I had to push myself to squeeze in the time required to read this book, I am glad I read it.
Massoumeh is an ordinary girl, passionate about learning. On her way to school she meets a local man and falls in love – but when her family discover his letters they accuse her of bringing them into dishonour, beat her and hastily arrange a marriage to a man she’s never met.
The years that follow Massoumeh’s wedding prove transformative for Iran. Her husband Hamid is a political dissident and when the secret service arrest him, it is the start of a terrifying period for Massoumeh. Her fate, so long dictated by family loyalty and tradition, is now tied to the changing fortunes of her country.
There is this conventional typecast for mothers, actually women – they are born to sacrifice everything for the happiness of their children and family, in the name of society and religion, even if its going to make the women’s existence extremely painful. The women are brought up that way, by their own mothers, grand mothers, aunts and who not ! So, over a period of time, these women feel guilty to even think of small personal happiness. How much a woman should study, when she should get married, how long she should endure an unhappy marriage – nothing is in the hands of these women. It’s so scary sometimes, when women hesitate to take decisions, on matters of such importance.
And I wanted to hit the typecast with a hammer – this book does that to you. After reading this book, I felt the true bolt of Iranian war and revolution and how it affected its masses. They fell from hot coals to deep fire, when the one Government was toppled and the religious one gained momentum. To have existed in such a place in itself is a great thing. To face the hardships of Massoumeh, is another thing.
Some quotes which I liked from the book:
– Even in the arts, they considered only artists who shared their perspective to be true artists; everyone else was an idiot. If I said I liked some singer or thought someone was a good poet, your father would argue that the singer or poet supported the Shah or was anti-communist, therefore his work was rubbish. He would actually make me feel guilty for enjoying a song or a poem !
– No, my son, you don’t need a hero. I could understand your obsession while you were a boy, but now you are a grown man and you neither need to be a hero, nor do you need to follow one. Stand on your own two feet and rely on your own intelligence and knowledge to choose the leaders you want to support and the instant you think they are heading in the wrong direction, take back your vote. You should not follow any person or ideology that asks you to blindly accept everything. You don’t need myths. Let your children see you as a man with a solid character who will protect them, not as someone who still needs to be protected. —- Such clear advice from mom to son. I just wish that the son would follow suit.
A brilliantly written book which takes you through the emotions of the people of Iran during turbulent revolutionary times. My hope that she’ll at least have a bit of happiness in her later years of life was shattered by her children who suddenly showed their selfish side and didn’t like their mother to spoil the image they hold with their in-laws !
Somehow I like the movie “Mere baap pehle aap”, where the son is so happy to get his father married ! Such should be the relationship between parents and their children.
Also I read that this book was banned by the Iranian authorities – I wonder why !!
So, just go ahead and grab this book.