Sunday, May 18, 2008

Women and their stories

Bangladesh, 18/05/08

I came across many interesting women during my recent field visit in Bangladesh to study ‘Nakshi- kantha’. Not that Bangladesh is somewhere an exception and so the women should be mentioned but that I never had the chance to talk to these struggling, working women so far, as this was my first field work that gave me the way.

I don’t want to write about the enormous effort these women are putting to combat the hindering forces inside and outside, neither do I want to write about the great changes these NGOs are bringing to the lives of thousand women…but about a slight contrast I noticed during my stay. It was a contrast between few women- educated and uneducated. It set me to think that the common words we utter everyday, that education makes one free is so incomplete. A bird with large wings but eyes fixed to ground would never know a flight but the one who knows the sky and can feel the passing winds, though may have small wings would surely fly.

I spoke to Putul Akhtar in the NGO- a girl of nineteen and the oldest kantha worker in the NGO I visited. She and her friend Rina, took the first order the founder had placed to initiate the system. They were paid 400 Tk per month and were promised to increase by 100 Tk per year. A young girl moving outdoor to work filled the neighborhood with astonishment. “Koto betachhele okhane”- so many men are there, was the main objection. Putul, then a girl of fifteen, convinced them saying that, men are everywhere. Men can come to their house even. Where can they hide away from men? Moreover if she worked she would provide for herself.
A simple logic, a simple way of thinking by a simple girl of Bangladesh. It was not a rebel, not a law-breaking pride, not a false, well-framed speech on self-dependence by an educated. That was what she purely thought, and that thought was so pure that no Quran came in way- no culture, no hijaab, no shame, no guilt, no fear.
She mentioned that working there changed her attitude. She could provide for herself and felt very good when she could get her younger brothers the things they asked. “I had the ability then, in fact the guts to buy them the things they desired’, was what she mentioned.

Another interesting woman is Naila Akhtar. If I didn’t meet her I wouldn’t have believed a person of this type could exist in this world. She wakes up, eats, sleeps, then wakes up, eats and sleeps. Any other things apart are hardly permitted to her. No need to move out, others might see her, no need to work inside, servant is fixed for that, no need to use phone much, wrong numbers might influence her...
She has completed her masters in Political Science, a well educated woman from a well off family married to a well off husband. He works in Italy and would soon take her there after he is a little settled. However, his settling is taking pretty long but husbandship and governing is perfectly maintained overseas.
He has such good control that his wife for many years has not seen an ungrilled sky –his fear being his only pretty wife of this world, might be seen by others (even through the complete packaging of burkha). Her every going up and down through staircase must be mentioned and asked for approval. These permissions or drafts are usually granted or objected through sms. One such sms was ‘I went to the shop downstairs to recharge just now as others in the house were busy’ The telephone rang from Italy and the master shouted as the draft was placed after action.
Statement is not what he wants! That doesn’t make him a master. He wants petitions with a question mark whose full stop would be authorized by His highness.

Another woman is Julekha Begam. Seven months after her marriage her husband left her and went. She was helpless in that house, so, returned. Without any issue or quarrel their marriage broke. The reason was his disagreement with her brother for which he took revenge on her. He had come back later wanting to take her back again. But Julekha, since was not an educated and didn’t waste time doing masters for nothing, was more liberal at taking a stand perhaps. She refused to return. “A man who could leave his wife within seven months can never again be trusted” is what she said. Ten years have passed after that. She trained herself in kantha-making and is now working in the NGO for five years. She lives in her brother’s house contributing her share in the family and calls herself a happy person. When I asked her whether she thought of a second marriage, she said, “I have experienced both being married and unmarried and so can judge. This is better.”
Bhishma when decided never to marry, flowers showered upon him from heaven. A woman struggling everyday all alone- not a wife, not a mother, but an individual who through life have discovered ‘individuality’ go unnoticed.

A wife next door, had served cutlet to her husband when he returned home. He had bitten his tongue while eating and screamed and shouted at her saying, the fault must be in her cooking which caused him to bite his tongue.
A girl called Sweety had won the National award in Bangla adhunik music. She left music completely after her marriage as her husband explained it was ‘haraam’ to sing.
He was dying to marry her for her good voice.

Most successful marriages run on the formula, ’Ignorance is bliss’. The wives remain completely ignored that married status can be any better. They see women around her to compare- some get beaten, others are burnt. At the end of the day they calculate…’hence, I am happy.’
Others who have a little more sense are trapped. First year she loved, second year she tried to love, third year she forced to love, then started every permutation combination with changes in her and husband. When all the probability factors of happiness are scribbled and scratched, she decides to leave- but her child by then becomes another variable to be included in her re-calculation.

Women in this NGO come at nine in the morning. They sit together with their work and soon the room is filled with giggle and laughter- they joke, tease and talk…tears spilling to wet a corner of kantha sometimes while sharing the darkest moments. Sometimes, the stitches a little crooked, stand as witness to a hearty laughter.
All of these women have their own stories to tell, to all of them life is a great teacher.

Nakshi kantha for ages have witnessed the changing tales of women, her changing fate, her changing emotions, her change from ‘fear to lose’ to ‘nothing to lose’ state. Her change from a woman to individual. Her change from running away in fear to flying away in a state where fear has been submerged by pain.


aravind said...

....Lengthy.......but got great essence....Women empowerment is needed everywhere,,
I believe lot of women in India too comprimise with their husbands bcoz of several factors.....
and all across I agree Life is the best teacher......
Keep it up....Great writing......Hearthy admiration

Priyanka said...

Apa your works are great!!