Thursday, April 23, 2009

Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain's Sultana’s Dream and Padmarag, reviewed by Rashida Ansari

Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain is considered to be one of the earliest and the most outspoken feminist writer from Bengal. Sultana’s Dream and Padmarag are two bold and thought provoking works that focus on issues pertaining to women, and considering that both of them were written in the last century, one cannot help but marvel at Rokeya’s determination to bring about social change through her writing while having to live with the risk of being ostracized.

Despite the seriousness of the subject at hand, the author tackles it all in a rather playful and insightful manner. The short story ‘Sultana's Dream’ is a delightful satire on the ‘uselessness’ of the male species. Set in a land where the men are relegated to purdah because they have messed up the environment and the political situation, the tale focuses on educated and intelligent women who take charge of running the country.

Meanwhile, the novella ‘Padmarag’ revolves around an organization which caters to oppressed and battered women who have nowhere else to go. It is founded and run efficiently by women who have striven hard to rise above their circumstances. These are the women who have seen it all –cruel and cunning husbands and in-laws, indifferent parents who don’t spare a thought for their daughters’ education or welfare, and scheming relatives and zamindars who have no qualms about duping women of their property and inheritance.

The protagonist Siddika, affectionately called ‘Padmarag’ (which means ruby), is one such individual. Abandoned by her husband due to a misunderstanding, the proud and self respecting Siddika holds her own in a largely male dominated society which emphasizes solely on the importance of home, hearth and husband in a woman’s life.

Interspersed with romance, melodrama and disasters, the novella is an interesting read though at times the coincidences in the tale seem a little too pat. The best part about Rokeya’s writing is how women from diverse religions, regions, ethnicities, class and creed come together and take concrete action against social ills like illiteracy, child marriages, male oppression and female seclusion.

Find out more about Rokeya Hossain's Sultana’s Dream and Padmarag here.

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