From Feni to New Zealand: Trinkets of a life lived
The thing about the tales of 'modern' women is that they are largely put into boxes. They are often riddled with individual plights, struggles and of course, the final thundering redemption song. Although there is truth sewn even within those stories, it is one that is predictable to the reader. This is where Mastura Tasnim's Silent Rebellion (Choitonno, 2020) offers a fresh set of eyes.
This collection of 30 poems was born within the stirring times of the pandemic—taking even the author by surprise. The birth was unintentional on the author's part, as it was her brother who had neatly grafted all the poems, turning it into a fine piece of reading, eventually presenting it to her as a gift. And for that effort, readers can rejoice since this honest, funny and raw piece of work has surfaced on the face of the earth.
Reading this book gave me an essence of looking through a bioscope, where the author, through each piece of poetry, gives the reader a sense of all the places she has hopped to—starting from the backwater towns of Feni and Jessore and then on a trip overseas in Singapore, and in New Zealand where she pursued her higher education in public policy. There's a push and pull within all of those journeys. One can sense the author's struggle—of being everywhere and nowhere all at once, in all the places and faces that felt like home, and all the goodbyes that were said. The book stitches a subtle yet raw imagery of the stubbornly quintessential 20s when life changes rapidly.
However, even with this rushed mindset, Mastura's penning is sincere. She crafts the details like a watchsmith, a representation of which could be found in the very first piece of the book, named "Feni". The author paints the town with a great deal of empathy and introspection. I was filled with intrigue as she coloured the most mundane aspects of Feni with great beauty, be it with her observations of Raipur Girls' College or the streetlights keeping away the dark. It also places the reader into the shoes of people living on the outskirts, where there's a lot of quiet but very loud dreams.
In "Rush", the reader gets a glimpse of the writer's playful world-building, where she stretches out the boundaries of imagination. "There was once a dear old man/ With ninja chops that hurt a thief/ He pulled a onesie over his eyes/ And beat him till he couldn't bleed", she writes. Her word play rings of nostalgia; it felt like I was looking at things like I did when I was once a child.
Yet most of her pieces also feel like they were conversations she was having with herself—reflections, advice and the constant checking back with reality that kept the writer grounded in every new city that welcomed her. This is reflected in her piece titled "Home", in which she confronts her own isolation in freedom. She walks the reader through the prophecy of her own life and the constant strife of meeting expectations, all the while fearing that none of it may come true.
Flipping through the pages of Silent Rebellion, one may find themselves resonating with many of the pieces, as they are written from a place that is all too familiar to us all—the struggle of fitting in, being of worth and meeting our own expectations. Mastura lets us know that we're not alone in our struggle, and thus comforts us with her words.
When asked about the motivation behind her writing, she says, "Transitioning into adulthood, with a full time job, and then transitioning into monk-hood with the scholarship, life went by. Although it felt like cheating writing in free-verse, I thought there was no other way to paint it, especially since the only person who I could speak to was myself."
Nazifa Raidah is a sub editor at The Daily Star.