Born into a muslim family , “Infidel” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali , is not a book I should’ve been reading in the month of Ramadaan. And definitely not the kind of book I should be reading on the train while coming to be with my old mother , who has had a recent surgery for a fracture on her femur. I should be praying to Allah for her speedy recovery , as would be recommended by the religion I am supposed to espouse. And yet , I was hooked on to her tale , following her through Somalia , to Saudi Arabia, to Ethiopia and Kenya and Holland. I was wonderstruck at her resilience, her uncompromising spirit . The range of experiences and suffering she had gone through left me in a constant state of curiosity ..what came next..what is there on the next page? How did she come to terms with her tribal/religious upbringing when the questions started tormenting her…questions regarding a compassionate God, who as per the book would punish us with the everlasting fires of hell, for our misdemeanors. Did she come to terms with it at all?
Imagine a little girl who had even undergone genital mutilation to supposedly preserve her “purity” and who had had no trouble abiding by the dictats of her community, growing up in Africa through the years when the different states were in a state of war torn anarchy and from there fighting her destiny all on her own to become a Member of Parliament in the Dutch Government , surviving a death threat and still standing tall and unbent .
But I had just about reached the chapter where she was about to be enrolled in one of the prestigious universities in Holland , where she had sought asylum, in an attempt to escape from a marriage her father had made her undergo, of course which was to be in her best interests, according to the paternalistic mores. I had gone off to sleep and had to get down at my hometown Kannur, early next morning. The book was left behind , I think , for I’ve been trying to locate it in amongst my clothes and stuff and it seems to have disappeared.
I’d bought “Infidel” and Arun Shourie’s book , “Does he know a Mother’s heart?” after many, many , many months of not stepping into a bookshop. I had actually been thrilled to be holding two brand new books in my hand. The smell of new print , the crisp paper, the prospect of turning through the pages to delve into the personal accounts of intimate journeys through the minds and spirit of two , whose circumstances in life was intense enough to shake loose the bedrock of faith . to gauge and assess one’s own churnings in the light of the meanings of life that they had discovered for themselves, was an invitation, I could hardly resist, to say the least.
I started with Arun Shourie’s book, his personal memoirs about his relationship with Faith and the denial of it through the journey of bringing up his only son who is affected with cerebral palsy. and I couldn’t finish it. Pages and pages of it were just quotes from the Koran and the Bible , which would ,to any questioning human being , raise doubts about the compassion and love of the God we are supposed to worship, make us wonder at Hell and the unforgiving nature of the Master of the Universe, when he assigns suffering to us and eventually confine us to the flames to be roasted continuously without ever having any reprieve. Shourie is supposed to go on with his questioning with the established ritualistic Hindu religion as well, but I didn’t get there. The problem was , I think, that for someone who has had issues with religions where questioning is not allowed, Shourie’s exposition was a dull repetition . He was meandering again and again through the same material.
I have always wondered, is communication more difficult for men than women? Not about the knowledge, not about the intellectual range, not about the reasoning part or logic…but something remains missing in the emotional content which would make writings of such a personal dimension relatable to the reader. Is it because men are loathe to reveal what they actually “feel”. Is it that they cannot find the words to express them or is it that doing so is a sign of exhibitionism in their perspective? Or may be men can indeed relate to it and women cannot. Or may be they can and it is just me who has a problem. Whatever. ……although both books are in the same genre, Arun Shourie’s narrative did not touch my heart the way Ayaan Hirshi Ali’s did. And now may be I will not be able to finish reading her tale as well, for a while.
My mother is in pain. She is in denial. She is depressed. Old age is trying, very trying, particularly if one hasn’t learnt to let go of attachments, of being in control. My mother is a namaazi. She has fasted during Ramadaan for the most part of her eighty plus years. She has abiding faith in the Holy book and in Allah’s compassion. None of which seem to be helping her through her suffering now. The standard rhetoric is of course that God(by whatever appellation) keeps testing us. Unless you can blindly, sedatedly, unreasoningly believe that, the question will continue nagging you….why would anyone want to do that, untiringly through all the “Time” that there was ,is and is going to be.? “Surrender” to a Power who can never be satisfied with the incessant “testing” of it’s own powers ?
I’ll probably burn in Hell and yet … … I cannot deny the feeling of infinite love that fills me in moments of silence. And I’m okay with appealing to that entity of Abundant Love to help relieve her insecurities , her fear of the unknown , which makes her cling on so desperately to her own image of physical strength and endurance and will power. I pray that she accepts the fact that it is okay to be vulnerable , to be weak , to be dependent. I pray that her mind may be free from the chatter and noise in which we find affirmation of our Self. I pray that she is able to surrender, really surrender .