Tuesday, January 12, 2016

On reading Dreams of Trespass : Tales of a Harem Girlhood.

Last night I fell asleep willing my subconscious to weave a dream about Fatima's mom's and Chama's embroidery,blue stitches falling defiantly yet gracefully one after the other on a brilliant red cloth, a bird and its dreams of flight coming together on cloth. No winged birds came to my dreams, at least none i can recollect. The only image that surfaced from memory is that of sunshine slanting through the high windows of my childhood home, brilliant sunshine in which countless tiny circles danced.
The book is Mernissi's memoir of growing up in a harem in the northern city of Fez in Morocco. Before reading this book the image conjured up by the word harem was that of a sultan in his royals garbs reclining majestically while exotic dancers and servants revolved around him. My ignorance of an entire culture. A harem is just a home, and little Fatima had a happy childhood within it in early 1940s when Morocco was under the French.The French soldiers had set up a frontier in the city, they simply built a gate there and called it a frontier. The natives who had never known a frontier to be there were baffled, they now needed permission to cross their own land. "To create a frontier all you need is soldiers to force others to believe in it. The landscape doesn't change".
There was another frontier established long ago in Fatima's house -the house gate. The Marnissi family lived together in the harem, grandmother, two sons, their families, widowed or divorced aunts and women who were formerly kept as slaves by the family.The harem was surrounded by walls and an iron gate guarded by their gate keeper. The children could step out with permission from their parents. Not the women. Allah has made frontiers to keep peace, Fatima's father said, and to trespass was to bring sorrow. Some women agreed, a harem protects they said.Some others dreamed of trespassing all the time. At her maternal grandfather's farm in the countryside Fatima experienced a harem with no walls and gate surrounding it.The open fields startled her, how can one be safe in the open fields without frontiers? There is no need for walls, her grandmother explained to her frontiers are within, a law tattooed in the mind. This invisible frontier tattooed within oneself ruffled her even further, she would rather have visible walls and gatekeepers than inner boundaries.
Reading Fatima's uneasiness and fear of the open fields brought to my mind the image of my son's pet parrot who keeps gnawing at the cage's bars even when the doors are left wide open. An image which gnaws at me. Theorists say the oppressed often internalize their inferiority or otherness, women internalize patriarchal values and contribute towards continuing the system. The book has pushed me out of my stupefying comfort - the harem within and without, the caged bird reluctant to step out, images i am sure i will carry within for long.
In the beginning of the story we see Fatima as a young girl sitting on the threshold of her mother's salon gazing at her house as if she had never seen it before: its square rigid courtyard surrounded by an arched colonnade supported by four columns on each side each with symmetrical tile work, heavy brocades and velvet draping the windows, colored glass arches. Everything was ruled by symmetry in the architecture of the house. Even the marble fountain and its waterfall seemed contained and tamed. The square man made frame however could not tame the sky which dazzled her on early mornings with pink and purple shades and movement of its stars. Slowly it dawned on me that the harem architecture indicates not just the physical structure around her, but all the controlling structures including religion and culture which attempts to guide and tame the lives of all within. There is so much more to say about this book, so much more of layers yet to unravel. The architecture is not without cracks, Fatima's gaze found the staircases to the terraces under open skies. in this way to me the book suggests that any imposing and long standing structure when gazed at as if for the first time, when studied closely will show cracks or flaws which could then be rewritten. As Yasmina, her grandmother tells her the rules are not fair for the women because they were not written by the women, one needs to learn the structure and learn to speak with authority to rewrite the rules. I think this is exactly what muslim feminists like Fatima Mernissi and Amina Wadud did and continue to do, re-reading, re-writing. The book has so much more layers for me to read, so much more to see. Much Love to the brave women who dared.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

There is a certain comfort in knowing that someone else has held the book you are reading and experienced what you are experiencing. The thoughts that the book invoke in you - no, not exactly thoughts- the inchoate swirling things which you struggle to express, which you dare not to express for fear of losing hem in the very act of wording them- someone else has been there. Someone else is right here with you partaking in  the experience silently.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Thank you google and facebook, for all those neat little drawers to scatter oneself away just like one sweeps a loose button or loose coins into a drawer. now for some place to dump all this blind rage to stumble out.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sun-dried tomatoes

A small piece of rope – blue, plastic- one end tied to one of the pillars of a makeshift shed and the other to a nearby tree, maybe three feet long, or shorter … a few items of clothing hanging , all worn out, not spread out like washing left to dry... more like weary thoughts dumped together.

i saw this image – not so much image as a few feeble lines barely touching- i saw it the third or the fourth day of drying the tomatoes. The tomatoes had started to wilt by then and since the days were long and nights hotter i had felt confident about leaving the tomatoes out till dinner time. The first time i bit into a piece of sun-dried tomatoes in a sandwich hurriedly eaten at a bleak airport lounge it was like tasting the warmth of sunshine caressing the tomato vines, i must make this, i had noted as countless tomatoes ripened and burst on my tongue. Some days later i picked some spotless roma tomatoes, sweet smelling basil and a canning jar at the grocery. Washed and dried, the deep red tomatoes with their soft shining skin were a sight to behold. Cut into halves their insides were achingly beautiful, tints of persimmon and pink with ruby red veins weaving through the flesh and around perfectly shaped seeds. i spread them on a wire rack, sprinkled salt on them and left them out in the balcony. Sun shone on the tomatoes and they quickly wilted and withered, their skin puckered and each red ovals magically took on unique shapes, and by the end of the week i was left with a handful of the most delightful, most zesty sun-dried tomatoes. i packed them in the canning jar filling it up with olive oil and the jar, oh the jar with deep red tomatoes and green basil and plump white garlic and black peppercorn stood on my kitchen counter spurring anyone who looked at it to take up painting.


And those washed out clothes; they still hang warily on to the tiny stretch of time in between sleep and wakefulness, in danger of falling down to oblivion any moment.

Monday, September 26, 2011

You

Thinking about you is like running my finger along your chin, foretasting the gentle rise and fall of your dimple, savoring the prickle of your stubble.



Thinking about thinking about you is like watching white clouds waft through a sky,


forever changing, forever escaping my gaze, white clouds forever getting lost in the blue


leaving me


a whole new sky.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Because i cannot see into darkness

Everyday these days a metaphor meets my eye and straining to capture it i start sentences like this one, only to strike it out and begin anew. Like an old apartment building, stripped off of its life, awaiting demolishment- and in mid-sentence the thought inevitably fizzle out.

Stepping away from the clamor of life i pull back my window curtains to see it, an old apartment building waiting to be demolished. No word i know can carry the weight of its emptiness- empty, vacant, abandoned- none says it. Its windows and doors and air conditioners have been torn off leaving behing yawning holes to the centre of its emptiness. Peering through these gaps i see how each apartment was once a home, that sort of place you call your own when you are out in the world, that sort of place entering which, especially alone at night, your hand juts out for human contact just to overcome the moment. All the bits and pieces left behind - broken furnitures, torn blankets, one faded teddy bear- further fills the place with nothingness. If this abandoned building was left there as a joke the punchline has to be the swear word someone painted on one of its pillars, a bold f and u, a wavering c, a timid k and a hazy u ; a punchline losing its fizz as its told.

Because my eyes cannot go all the way into it i send my words to grapple it. I seize it! but in a moment it thrashes about violently, gashes my hands with its gills and escapes my grasp.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Some of the best moments in life are spent waiting

It starts as a fluttering in a corner, your body picks it up, and then you know you are waiting for a memory to happen. If someone passing by happens to see your face now, she or he will remember your face after a long period of time and will be unable to shrug off a sense of familiarity.
You know you are waiting for it to happen, not as a tap on your shoulder but more as something gushing towards you. You know the moment the warm flesh of the memory touches you, you will recognize it, not as a missing piece of your remembered life, but as carrying new voices and new scents, and you will welcome it as your own.