Soniah Kamal

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'Islam is not Pakistan's religion; Marriage is'

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tahmineh Milani's 'Two Women', a film from Iran

Two Women follows the lives of friends Fereshteh (Niki Karimi) and Roya (Marila Zarei) over a decade. As college students, Roya approaches the academically above average Feresteh for tutoring sessions and their friendship develops rapidly in a lovely montage; paradise, however, never lasts. Feresteh is being stalked by a frighteningly violent young man (there is a thoroughly satisfying scene on a bus where she berates him), the university shuts down, and thanks to her small minded father her once promising future takes a downward turn all too real.
As such Two Women should not conveniently be categorized as a mere film about women's rights; it is so much more and Tahmineh Milani, the writer and director, has done a beautiful job without resorting to male bashing or melodrama: there are decent men and there is no chest beating, hysterical weeping, or long diatribes of 'woe is me'. Instead, simple acts convey heartbreak such as a mother patting the empty bed of her kidnapped children, and Niki Karimi’s stellar expressions whenever her screen husband insults her in front of her children. In each scene be it back story or present day, the camera lingers just long enough to deliver the intent and then briskly skips on without a single misstep or lag thanks to Mostafa Kherghehpoosh’s excellent editing skills.
Two Women was released to acclaim in 1999, and ten years later it could be set in Pakistan scene to scene with the added detail of helpless/unhelpful neighbors watching from doorways as desperate women run down the street towards literal and symbolic blind ends. The end reminded me of the adage 'better late than never', and why it's not always true. This is a film which should not be missed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle the Kingsolver family eat homegrown as well as locally grown foods for a year in order to reduce their carbon footprint. However there are some items which they cannot do without even though they grow very far away such as olive oil and coffee. Barbara pens the chapters on the vegetables in season and how the Kingsolvers grow or buy them and how they prepare them, with end caps by husband Steven Hopp and college bound daughter Camille.

My favorite passages were, by far, those concerning their six year old daughter, Lily's, egg business, as well as the bits about the heritage turkeys. I had no idea that turkey sexuality was bred out of them, and therefore turkey females did not necessarily know how to be mothers. Reminded me of women fumbling and foiling at breast feeding because it really is a learned art, and often there is literally no one at home to correct what they may be doing wrong.

I was hoping to learn from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle how to grow more local (except for tomatoes I don't do much else), but this is not that type of book. In fact, there were times when I felt hopeless at ever being able to grow foods and sustain myself let alone my family in the style of the Kingsolvers. Barbara and Steven have both grown up on farms and so have the added benefit of knowing what peg goes in which hole much as I do when it comes to Pakistani recipes and knowing which ingredient should be added when by sheer dint of belonging to the culture. I can no more 'teach' someone how to grow local by telling them how lushly the turmeric and cumin and onions grew in my garden, how their colors flowered in my kitchen, or how their smells added to my dreams, then Barbara does in her chapters be they asparagus in March, zucchini in July or pumpkins in October.

Also I would have liked to know how much cleaning, and preparation, and cleaning was involved in growing, scrubbing, canning, freezing, storing, slaughtering; an awful lot of cleaning, I dare say, which might put a woman like me, if I had no domestic help, in a very bad mood. But Barbara breezes through the menial chores in so far that they do not crop up in the book much, and certainly not as something bad mood inducing. If I remember correctly, she even says at one point that all the preparation and cooking is actually soothing because her other job i.e. writing, is so cerebral.

The last chapter 'Time Begins' is beautiful and Barbara's writing is at its profound, heart stirring "The Poisonwood Bible' ish best.

Here are some quotes I want to remember:

So when people refer to this (actose intolerance) as an illness, I'm inclined to
point out we L.I.'s can very well digest the sugars in grown-up human foods like
fruits and vegetables, thank you, we just can't nurse. From a cow. Okay?
from the chapter Six Impossible Things
Before Breakfast

But spending every waking hour on one job in drudgery, however you slice it. After an eight hour day at my chosen profession, enough is enough. I'm ready to spend the next two or three somewhere else, preferably outdoors, moving my untethered limbs to a worldly beat. Sign me up on the list of those who won't maximize their earnings through a life of professionally focused ninety hour weeks. Plenty of people do, I know, either perforce or by choice-- overwork actually has major cache in a society
whose holy trinity is efficiency, productivity, and material acquisition.
Complaining about it is the modern equivalent of public prayer. 'Work' in this
context, refers to tasks that are stressful and externally judged, which the
worker heartily longs to do less of. 'Not working' is widely coveted but harder
to define. The opposite of work is play, also an active verb. It could be tennis
or birdwatching, so long as its meditative and makes you feel better afterward.
Growing sunflowers and beans is like that, for some of us. Cooking is like
that. So is canning tomatoes and making mozzarella. Doing all of the above with
my kids feels like family life in every happy sense. When people see the size of
our garden or the stocks in our pantry and shake their heads, saying "What a lot
of work," I know what they're really saying. This is the polite construction in
our language for "What a dope". They can think so. But they're wrong.
from the chapter What Do You Eat in January?

I once read a pioneer diary in which the Kansas wife postponed, week after week, harvesting the last hen in her barren, windy yard. "We need the food badly," she wrote, "but I will miss the company." I've never been anywhere near that lonely, but now I can relate to the relationship.
from the chapter Time Begins

...we've learned that some of our favorite things like DDT and the propellants in aerosol cans were rapidly unraveling the structure and substance of our biosphere. We gave them up, and reversed the threats. Now the reforms required of us are more systematic, and nobody seems to want to go first. (To be more precise, the
U.S.A. wants to go last.)
from the chapter Time Begins

Christmas music fills our ears with tales of a Palestinian miracle birth, a generous Turkish saint whom the Dutch dressed in a red suit, and a Druid ceremonial tree...
from the chapter Celebration Days.

The Prophet Muhammad recommended it (garlic) for snakebite. Eleanor
Roosevelt took it in chocolate covered pills to improve her memory, and Pliny
the Elder claimed it was good for your sex life. I wouldn't bet on that last
from the chapter Smashing Pumpkins

What a pleasant, refreshing surprise to find the Prophet Muhammad in a book on eating locally!!
I am so used to the Prophet, indeed anything related to Islam, being mentioned only and only in context to the usual veiling and failings that I reread the above lines twice before trusting mine eyes. Why am I not surprised that the author is Barbara Kingsolver :)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

More Good News for Wives and Mothers and the Injured in Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan has quietly passed a law permitting Shia men to deny their wives food and sustenance if they refuse to obey their husbands' sexual demands.
The new final draft of the legislation also grants guardianship of children exclusively to their fathers and grandfathers, and requires women to get permission from their husbands to work.
It also effectively allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by paying 'blood money' to a girl who was injured when he raped her.
Tamkeen is the readiness of the wife to submit to her husband's reasonable sexual enjoyment, and her prohibition from going out of the house, except in extreme circumstances, without her husband's permission. If any of the above provisions are not followed by the wife she is considered disobedient"
read the rest of the Guardian article here
A hell on earth for women; for men, a heaven.
I suppose I should say 'some' men.
Khaled Hosseini's novel 'A Thousand Splendid Suns' is a page turning read for how women manage to live within laws like the above.
Live is the wrong word. Die is right.
There is the rapist, but what is the person raped called? I'm beginning to hate the nomenclature 'rape victim'.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

New Story- Darning Blue Sky

Urhalpool, a Bengali-English webzine, invited me to contribute a story. I sent Darning Blue Sky.