By Pritha Lal
Yes , I just finished Khaled Hosseini's second masterpiece and I am at cross roads of trying to pen down what the pages made me think and feel. Interestingly, I still haven't completed the Kite Runner but this one, I couldn't put down for a second. The first thing that strikes you about the book is the fact that it is the story of the lives of 2 women amidst a battered Afghanistan, spanning several decades, but more importantly, it is a story written by a man, completely from a woman's perspective. This is even more striking when you realize that this is the same author who made his readers' eyes sting with the accounts of "Baba Jaan" in the Kite Runner.
I am in no way qualified to critique this masterpiece but I don't want to lose the essence that it left me in me today. As one reads the book, one is made brutally aware of the atrocities that are lashed out on women in different levels of society in different ways. One feels a sense of revulsion towards fundamentalism in all its forms. One is apalled at how close to truth, some of these pages probably are. Yes, the storyline speaks to one geographical area and one socio-political community, and yet as I went through the pages, the paragraphs that left my face moist with tears were not the ones that shouted atrocities, rather the ones that would resonate with any woman today, in any part of the world, in any community, in any faith.
Whether it was the unshed tears of an incomplete love story, or the sorrow of a woman to lose her child even before the little one made an appearence in this world; whether it was the joy of the same woman to find opportunities where she could be a mother in ways that completed her very existence without ever giving birth; whether it was that friend who would kill for you; that friend who would die so you could live your dreams; at the end of the day this was a story of the best and worst facets of human relationships. No one is without frailties, least of all a woman, and yet what makes you look in awe at the 2 principal characters in the book is their very imperfection; their inability to probably fight their circumstances and yet their ability to be the best they can be.
Anthologies have been written through history about the "fairer sex", the "weaker gender", the "opressed lot" etc. Both literate and educated women all over the world have stood up to fight for their sisters, for the wrong and right causes, with the wrong and right means. Repetition of what women have to go through seems as pointless as meaningless. This book inspires at a very different level. It makes you look at reality head on, makes you lock eyes with the most brutal beast that can get you down, some call it fate, some call it circumstances, I call it my reflection in my mirror. You truly are your own worst enemy if you let that reflection determine your image rather than the other way around.
Laila and Mariam - the 2 principal characters in the book, didn't live, they merely existed, but somehow in all that they went through, their spirit shone with a radiance that can only be a gift of the Divine. Yes, they are characters from a work of fiction, but as I started to look around me, I realized I have the privilege of knowing a lot of women who may not suffer the physical adversities that Laila and Mariam did, but mentally they could have been reduced to a shell of a human being. Yet these women not only survived but have done so with pride, dignity, with their heads held high. We call them by different names, mothers, sisters, friends, aunts, grandmothers etc. They each had a cross to bear, and for some reason it was not a burden, rather a gift from Above.
Look around you, there are women whose faces remain hidden either behind make up or smiles, behind twinkling eyes or an infectious laugh... and if you looked really closely, you would find, they cry a silent tear when no one is looking, they sigh wistfully when no one is around, they wonder about their "what-ifs" in a moment of solitude, and yet when life takes over, they shine with the brilliance of a thousand splendid suns....