Most of us in our apparently tranquil society are driven by an overriding middle-classism: complacent inside personal existence with an all-going-awesome mindset. The interweaving complexities of our murky surroundings occasionally create some annoyed “ki je hochhe eshob!” mutterings within our social circles, but those gleefully vaporize over time. As long as we aren't affected, we allow 'life' to carry on along its course.
In such scenario, raising your voice, for whatsoever reasons, has almost become taboo in our eyes. You just drag troubles by raising your voice alone; there are forces who don't appreciate it. And specifically if you are a female, you drag controversies. Then, regardless of the urgency of the cause or the sensibility of the issue, you make people brand you with the eventual term 'feminist aka Taslima Nasreen'. That you aren't being treated justly or respectfully will become null, because you spoke about what you face. Nobody feels that you don't need to be a feminist to speak about the crude realities. In every sense, you are the one who is the de facto 'choritroheena nari'.
Since most victims silently obey this diktat, they don't raise voices. But a Jesmin Chowdhury from Manchester does. And she does it without being a Taslima Nasreen. Instead of sensationalizing her suffocations, she simply hits at your conscience to make it rise up from dead. This her newly published book “Nishiddho Dinlipi” appears as essential scruples for both male and female readers. A collection of vignettes that she had published in different popular webzines and literary sites, the book tells you why we all must look inside our souls to understand women's world. Novelist Selina Hossain in her preamble rightly echoes similar sentiments.
But let me clear this: the book is neither a slogan nor a shout. It is Jesmin's interior voyage impelled by her exterior society, the society of hidden evils. The society that resides across boundaries: in her hometown Sylhet, in Dhaka, London, Manchester and everywhere. Both men and women wear masks, and those masks undergo changes in color and shape to maltreat-insult-malign women.'Choritroheenar kholachithi' (An open letter from a debauched woman) is, therefore, the perfect start for this book. It magnificently exposes our hypocrisy about judging women in the yardstick of a series of interconnected maxims: a woman's 'goodness of character' is socially determined and society is governed by masculine ethics; women dare not skip any of those ethics because women can't have ethics on their own; they must always be guided by their shelter-givers (not just men, women too) whose even wrong guidance should be received as righteous fate by women. Jesmin, after separation from her abusive first husband, refused to accept these maxims. With her kids, she gloriously fought on her own to stand up on her feet without any support of societal shelter-givers. The middle-class masks, shocked and angry, had no other way except defining the choritroheen-ness of her being, her existence.
So readers can see, how countless Jesmins mutely fume in all households transcending boundaries, more specifically, Bangalee boundaries. It is now up to the readers whether they will shed off their middle-class masks and become real humans.
The irony of the entire matter is, women themselves are part of this masculine mindset. Jesmin describes in her equally thoughtful piece 'Ami kidorai shokhi beshsha galire?'(Do I care your calling me a whore?) how male-governed society's members in shirts-trousers and saris get shocked by women with voices and do not hesitate in equating them with 'prostitutes'. And thereafter comes Jesmin's logical query:on what ethical standing do even our brothel-mongering males hate prostitutes for their profession? Well, middle-class hypocrisy rules.
'Barbar phire ashe bedonar honeymoon' (The honeymoons of sorrows return repeatedly) is another striking piece which depicts how married women face circles of painful honeymoons in their lives, i.e. the stage by stage abusive events followed by apparently happy moments…ultimately never making them really happy. Jesmin's experience of working as an interpreter in a young girl Maya's prolonged divorce case prompted her to write this touching piece.
Besides numerous fascinating discourses on women voice, Jesmin raises diversified issues too: her valiant freedom fighter dad, the ludicrous garbage in social media, the dreadful fate of infant rape-victim Puja, the curse of clueless parenting in Bangladesh, the inhuman plight of maltreated maid servant sand so on. Every article appeals to our never-thought-of humane senses, deplorably drowned in the sea of our middle-class double standards.
Jesmin's personal stature as an English language teacher and a freelance interpreter has allowed her to view multiple shades of contemporary life. And her credit lies in painting those shades with sheer honesty. “Nishiddho Dinlipi”, in my view, is a unique framescape of the naïve personas residing within us which Jesmin has treated with passionate maturity. You will feel discomfort at times, but that mustn't stop you from roaming through the pages. And inarguably, her silky, free-flowing prose will captivate even the most reluctant reader.
The reviewer is a writer and translator; he is an Associate Professor and Researcher at BRAC Institute of Languages (BIL) in BRAC University.