Just like Behula, the people of Bangladesh never stopped persevering …
When the curse of the snake goddess Manasha took the life of Lakhinder, his wife Behula embarked on a journey of epic proportions, determined against all odds to get her husband back. Much like the story of Manashamangal, the epic that tells Behula's tale, Anisul Hoque's masterpiece translated into English by Inam Ahmed, The Ballad of Ayesha tells the captivating story of Ayesha Begum, a woman who will stop at nothing to find out what happened to her husband Joynal Abedin, who had been arrested and sentenced to death on dubious charges of mutiny, and whether he is still alive.
Ayesha's story parallels the story of the newly independent Bangladesh it is set in. Not only does the news of her new husband's arrest and sentence leave her with questions, nobody seems to know the answers to her queries. It also happens to be the beginning of a period of immense struggle and misfortune to befall her and her two infants. Anisul Hoque brilliantly captures the struggles of a new mother through countless hurdles, just like her motherland, whose post-independence story is strewn with struggles.
While recounting the life of Ayesha, Hoque explores Bangladesh during a time of severe political unrest through the perspectives of its people. Through his hypnotic writing and Inam Ahmed's skillful translation, the expertly crafted novella takes the reader through a very important period of history and an intense emotional journey. Many aspects of this book might remind the reader of another book that has become an integral part of our understanding of ourselves and our identity as a people, as it is reflected in another one of Anisul Hoque's masterpieces, Ma.
Just like Ayesha's story, Bangladesh's story might be one of struggle and misfortune, but it is also one of hope. Ayesha fights through everything life throws at her, all the while holding onto the hope that her husband is still alive and stopping at nothing to find him. Through a time plagued by famine, natural disasters, multiple coup d'etats, political assassinations, questionable decisions by those in power, and many more adversities, the people of Bangladesh did not give up hope, they strove for justice and survival. Just like Behula, the people of Bangladesh never stopped persevering.
The Ballad of Ayesha is not just a story but also an important commentary on our history. It is a reminder of who we are as Bangladeshis: indomitable, unsinkable, and a nation founded by heroes. And more important than that, it is a reminder that no matter what instances of misfortune or injustice we face, we can overcome them, like we have every single time; it is a reminder to keep fighting, because it is through the adversities we have faced that we have come this far.
Muhtasim Shams writes from Canada.