When novels become more than mere sheets of paper
By Aswathy Kumar
For a very long time I was never into books. Though I did read all the latest novels, I never understood what it was about a book that particularly appealed to a reader. For me they were mere pages with a few flowery words imprinted in them.
I tried my best to like books and made it a point to buy all the best sellers. Be it The Da Vinci Code, Paul Cohelo’s Alchemist or The Lord of the Rings series. But for some reason, I just couldn’t set my heart into any of it. I felt desperate! Was there something wrong with me? Was I stupid? I knew I had to find what the problem was.
It was only much later that I realized that it was time I stopped listening to others and found out what it was that truly appealed to me. It was time to stop listening to my dad, my friends and my teachers and find out what it was, I really wanted.
I moved to Nairobi and received an opportunity to meet many interesting women from very different backgrounds and social upbringings. From Muslim women in Hijabs to struggling single working mothers, I interacted with the exploited labour class women in Nairobi and Somalian women who were victims of female circumcision. I met mothers fighting court cases for child support against abandoned fathers and women married to abusive husbands.
After listening to their hard hitting stories, I realized that it was time I came out from the fantasy world of super cops, goblins and make believe characters and delved into reality. I realized it was time I knew more about women and what they went through across the globe.
On one of my visits to the book shop, I picked out the book The Thousand Splendid Suns. It was about the lives of two Muslim women and I felt it was exactly what I was looking for. It will help me relive their suffering and help me understand their lives better. I couldn’t put it down, quite a refreshing change for someone who took months to finish a book.
In just a matter of few pages, the two main characters Mariam and Laila became a part of me. I felt for them, cried for them, prayed for them and felt the need to protect them. Every time Mariam experienced a blow from her husband, I felt it too, deep within my skin. Every time Laila saw a hope to freedom, I hoped with her.
It’s after reading The Thousand Splendid Suns and other women interest’s fiction like Anita Amirrezvani’s The Blood Of Flowers, Malika Oufkir’s La Prissonniere, Thrity Umrigar’s The Space Between Us and many others that I realized that as a reader I wanted to read about the lives of other women in different parts of the world.
I wanted to read about characters that I could empathize with, about women I could laugh with, cry with; about women I could admire and feel for. I wanted to read not only about women I could identify with like the rebellious Saira in The Writing On My Forehead by Nafisa Haji but I also wanted to read about women who could inspire me like the courageous Malika Oufkir.
What was amazing was that most of these books were not autobiographies (except for La Prisonnere) and were mostly fiction. But even then the characters felt as real to me as anybody I met on a daily basis. The servant girl Bhima reminded me of the old maid who worked for my family in Delhi, the notorious Zeliha of The Bastard of Istanbul was almost exactly like a close friend of mine back in Kerala. Their stories were as real to me as any biography or any story that appeared on the morning newspaper. And I knew I had found what I was looking for.