The workings of the human heart | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 25, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 25, 2010

The workings of the human heart

Nausheen Rahman spots poignance in a tale

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The Moon in the Water
Ameena Hussein
Perera Hussain Publishing House
Colombo

Is it fate that decides what happens to us? Or is it Karma? Is a biological connection stronger than an emotional one? Can we ever really be sure of things we take for granted in life?
Sri Lankan writer Ameena Hussein's enthralling novel, The Moon in the Water, not surprisingly long-listed for the first Man Asia Literary Prize, deals with the above questions and also attempts to fathom the complexities of human nature and relationships.
Twenty-five year old Khadeeja Rasheed, Deeja, as she is fondly called by her loving family, faces the first tragedy of her life when her father is killed in a bomb explosion in Colombo. Little did she know then that much more anguish was waiting for her. Deeja's stumbling across a packet, epistolary exchanges between different members of her family, seems to tear her world asunder and shake the foundations of her existence.
Deeja discovers that she is an adopted child and that her biological brother, Arjuna, had also been given up for adoption. She begins to question her own identity, her entity. Ameena Hussein's masterful depiction of Deeja's emotions, her trying to come to terms with reality, her going out to find Arjuna, leaves one feeling sad and unsettled, but strangely wiser.
Deeja locates her brother and an easy friendship starts to grow between them - until he finds out that she is really there to know more about him and his life, not to do research as she had told him. He is irate. Then she tells him who she is. Gradually, an indescribable closeness develops between the siblings.
Deeja's foster parents and siblings truly love her and she has had a comfortable and happy life; Arjuna's story is very different. The only love he has got is from his adoptive mother. Where Khadeeja has grown up to be carefree and fun-loving, Arjuna has become a troubled, bitter and cynical person.
Raushen Gul and Rasheed, Deeja's foster parents, loved her without reservation, but neglected to tell her that she was not their own. The trauma of being faced with the truth, changes Deeja's outlook on life, and her attitude towards things. Her career, her family, a devoted fiancé, nothing seems to have the same meaning anymore. She feels unsure of the fate of her and Abdullah's love and realizes that she needs time to understand herself, others, and her relationships, better. Abdullah, her fiancé, an African (from Malawi), loves her dearly, but fails to get through to her after the big upheaval in her life.
The narration is though-provoking. We wonder inevitably how we would have felt in that situation. It is a tale which is told from the heart and goes straight to the heart. At one point, Deeja tells Arjuna: “To me a biological connection is just that. Simply biological, an accident of nature. The proof is in the emotional connection”. Arjuna responds by saying (of his parents): “They chose me. I didn't choose them. I, in fact, had no choice. I was like some bloody commodity. They went into a shop and I was transacted. That's the plain truth”.
Raushen Gul had been married for six years and had not had any children, but after she adopts Deeja, she goes on to have three children. Her mother tells her that Deeja has “brought the gift of pregnancy”. Raushen Gul's connection with the thirteen-month-old Deeja had been instant. She tells her that Rasheed had been very understanding and realized that the little child was needed for her sanity. Raushen Gul calls the baby her 'little miracle' and says that she brought her peace, happiness, contentment.
The happenings in the story are disturbing, yet in some inexplicable way, also comforting, for they highlight the workings of the human heart. Our quandary is whether family ties can survive destiny's onslaughts. For those who are exceptionally sensitive, it must be hard to be complacent and unaffected. It is heartening however, to read about how people from different walks of life come forward to help those in distress (like in the tsunami calamity). The story moves at a relatively fast pace and before we can let matters sink in, another poignant incident occurs. With the political unrest in Sri Lanka as the backdrop and the tsunami disaster as catalyst, Deeja has to confront yet another unbearable tragedy. What this tragedy is, and how Deeja copes, or is unable to cope with it, is for readers to find out. The reading will certainly be worthwhile.

Nausheen Rahman teaches and is a literary critic.

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