The Pearl that Broke Its Shell By Nadia Hashimi
March 16th, 2015
The Club met after a really long time. Not that we hadnt all been in touch or convened before. But we seriously considered a book after a long while. Admittedly, all hadn’t completed reading it. Gurinder however had not only read and analysed the book, she had come with a write up as well which she made the basis for her presentation.
I reproduce it verbatim, below :
” The stories of two Afghan women separated by two generations run parallel in the book. Shekiba, the grandmother, lived a life full of hardship and poverty after the passing away of her entire family. Her siblings were taken away by cholera and her parents by old age, sickness and grief. Since her father had broken all relationships with his brother, uncles and other family she hid as long as she could the fact that she was living and eking out a survival all by herself on the poor family farm. Her childhood and adolescence passed in acute poverty but tremendously rich in the loving warmth and kindness of her maternal home. Shekiba’s life was defined by a large and ugly scar covering one entire side of her face….much like the stark life she was to lead when discovered by her uncles who also took away her farm.
What shines throughout the journey of her eventful life, so filled with hardship and cruelty, is her indomitable spirit. Even in her darkest moments she does not accept what life has offered her, and has instead a strong determination to change her circumstances. For a few years she worked as a palace guard, wearing her hair short and dressing in male clothes with thick boots on her feet and adopting a male name, Shekib. But here too her life is marked by betrayal which once again, dramatically changes the course of her life.
The main protagonist, Rahima’s life, two generations later, still seems to echo in many ways the kind of cruel, unequal and unfair life Shekiba led. Through the years of her childhood till she reaches the age of 13, her aunt narrates to her in snatches, big and small, the story of Shekiba. Her gutsy and outspoken aunt is also a living inspiration who does not hesitate to call a spade a spade. Rahima’s family lived in wrenching poverty, her mother managing the household somehow with the money her opium addicted husband brought in sometimes.
Soon enough it is no longer possible to feed everyone and there is no male support for managing shopping and other jobs outside the home. In desperation, Rahima’s mother resorts of the age old and widely accepted practice of turning Rahima into becoming a “bacha posh” or a girl disguised as a boy till she reaches the age of puberty. As Rahima becomes Rahim and lives the life of a boy, even working at a shop to bring in some money, she experiences the exhilaration and freedom that come with her new identity. Quite soon, Rashida’s parents, after marrying off (selling for bride price) all their five daughters to unsuitable suitors succumb to opium addiction.
The author writes insightfully about the life of Afghan women in a deeply patriarchal society. The book is essentially about:
1) The quest for independence and freedom;
2) The role education can play as a first step in the liberation of women;
3) Sharply contrasting rights and privileges for men and women in Afghan society under the Taliban;
4) Use of male dressing as a window to the kind of life women long for in Afghan society;
5) Societal myths and conspiracies for the subjugation of women;
6) The incredible spirit, fortitude, courage, will to survive and an astonishing love for life of the women stand out at all times. ”
– Gurinder Kaur
This was a great incentive for me to read the book.