Book review

When oppression confronts love, who’s the winner? This novel offers an answer

The acclaimed Malayalam novel ‘Barsa’ is available in an English translation 10 years later.

“Can you show me the fine line that separates man and god?”

Barsa is a 2007 novel in Malayalam by Kadeeja Mumtas, and Yoda Press brings us a translation by KM Sherrif. If the blurb on the back is to be believed, this is a “celebrated novel in the original Malayalam by a valiant Muslim female voice.” I find myself completely agreeing with its celebration; it’s a great novel, and I wish I could read it in the original Malayalam.

What I find myself grimacing at, as always, is the specification: a (valiant) Muslim female voice. In the same way, perhaps, as Tina Fey is a courageous white Christian voice? No, actually. Not in the same way at all. One of the realisations I have reached after reading Barsa is that the novel is really not about the experience of one woman surrounded by oppressive practices, never mind the further particularities of religion and gender.

It is, instead, about the experience of being oppressed by practice itself: it is the careful examination of the nature of praxis as the Greeks formulated it, separated from thought and theory, from cranial expectations, crystallised violently into custom by forces beyond one’s grasp. And that is what makes it worthy of a wide readership.

Barsa is acclaimed as the first Malayalam novel set in Saudi Arabia, but like any good novel, its quiet splendour lies in its ability to leave behind both “Malayalam” and “Saudi Arabia”, or, at least, to redefine what “Malayalam” and “Saudi Arabia” could mean.

The religion of love

Sabitha Rasheed is a doctor, and she is far more interesting than her name. She converts to Islam once she marries Rasheed, who is also a doctor. Rasheed wants to work in the Gulf, and Sabitha has no problem going along with this dream of his. They want to move to Riyadh, but end up getting assigned jobs in Mecca (called Makkah in the novel.)

Needless to say, life in Mecca is not easy for Sabitha. She is disgusted to note pregnant women opting for circumcisions that will keep their vaginas tight for their husbands’ pleasure. She wonders at the conviction and defiance with which women in labour demand help in between spasms. And she can’t help but point out to her neighbours that although Islam rejects idol worship in principle, it cannot avoid letting that very devoted materiality creep into the actions of its practitioners (medicine and religion in the novel lead unnervingly similar lives.)

Sabitha is overwhelmed by practice: of medicine and of religion, certainly, but also of womanhood, of marriage, of love – so much so that it does not matter what one is practising. Action itself becomes infinitely oppressive. The fine line Rasheed is asked to define, separating man and god, is a tightrope, and no stars for guessing who the death-defying artists are.

Her own myth

My favourite parts of Barsa, however, are the ones where Mumtas chooses her mythology. Sabitha delights to note similarities in the legends surrounding Queen Sheba and the Kauravas. She also thinks about Sakina, the great-granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad, a brave and intelligent girl who died in a dungeon at the age of five. The novel describes Sakina as Barsa, the Arabic word for the one who does not veil her face, the one who does not bow her head.

Needless to say, Sabitha – like Sakina – is also Barsa. And whether or not an individual chooses to always be Barsa, and to always ask questions, is perhaps not for them to rightfully decide alone. The larger lesson the novel “teaches” is the incalculable stranglehold relationships have on you and your life, the fact that you do the things you do because you love the people you love.

Sabitha’s story to and from Mecca, from and to India, is a story of courage only because it is a story of love. And it is a gentle story, told without malice, disdain, or glory, a simple story about the most complex relationship of the human canon: one person, and the person one loves.

(Yoda Press gets one big thing right with its edition of Barsa: the front cover. Do look at it with care; you’ll return to it several times once you start reading the novel.)

Barsa, Kadeeja Mumtas, translated by KM Sherrif, Yoda Press

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

What’s the difference between ‘a’ washing machine and a ‘great’ washing machine?

The right machine can save water, power consumption, time, energy and your clothes from damage.

In 2010, Hans Rosling, a Swedish statistician, convinced a room full of people that the washing machine was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution. In the TED talk delivered by him, he illuminates how the washing machine freed women from doing hours of labour intensive laundry, giving them the time to read books and eventually join the labour force. Rosling’s argument rings true even today as it is difficult to deny the significance of the washing machine in our everyday lives.

For many households, buying a washing machine is a sizable investment. Oddly, buyers underestimate the importance of the decision-making process while buying one and don’t research the purchase as much as they would for a television or refrigerator. Most buyers limit their buying criteria to type, size and price of the washing machine.

Visible technological advancements can be seen all around us, making it fair to expect a lot more from household appliances, especially washing machines. Here are a few features to expect and look out for before investing in a washing machine:

Cover your basics

Do you wash your towels every day? How frequently do you do your laundry? Are you okay with a bit of manual intervention during the wash cycle? These questions will help filter the basic type of washing machine you need. The semi-automatics require manual intervention to move clothes from the washing tub to the drying tub and are priced lower than a fully-automatic. A fully-automatic comes in two types: front load and top load. Front loading machines use less water by rotating the inner drum and using gravity to move the clothes through water.

Size matters

The size or the capacity of the machine is directly proportional to the consumption of electricity. The right machine capacity depends on the daily requirement of the household. For instance, for couples or individuals, a 6kg capacity would be adequate whereas a family of four might need an 8 kg or bigger capacity for their laundry needs. This is an important factor to consider since the wrong decision can consume an unnecessary amount of electricity.

Machine intelligence that helps save time

In situations when time works against you and your laundry, features of a well-designed washing machine can come to rescue. There are programmes for urgent laundry needs that provide clean laundry in a super quick 15 to 30 minutes’ cycle; a time delay feature that can assist you to start the laundry at a desired time etc. Many of these features dispel the notion that longer wash cycles mean cleaner clothes. In fact, some washing machines come with pre-activated wash cycles that offer shortest wash cycles across all programmes without compromising on cleanliness.

The green quotient

Despite the conveniences washing machines offer, many of them also consume a substantial amount of electricity and water. By paying close attention to performance features, it’s possible to find washing machines that use less water and energy. For example, there are machines which can adjust the levels of water used based on the size of the load. The reduced water usage, in turn, helps reduce the usage of electricity. Further, machines that promise a silent, no-vibration wash don’t just reduce noise – they are also more efficient as they are designed to work with less friction, thus reducing the energy consumed.

Customisable washing modes

Crushed dresses, out-of-shape shirts and shrunken sweaters are stuff of laundry nightmares. Most of us would rather take out the time to hand wash our expensive items of clothing rather than trusting the washing machine. To get the dirt out of clothes, washing machines use speed to first agitate the clothes and spin the water out of them, a process that takes a toll on the fabric. Fortunately, advanced machines come equipped with washing modes that control speed and water temperature depending on the fabric. While jeans and towels can endure a high-speed tumble and spin action, delicate fabrics like silk need a gentler wash at low speeds. Some machines also have a monsoon mode. This is an India specific mode that gives clothes a hot rinse and spin to reduce drying time during monsoons. A super clean mode will use hot water to clean the clothes deeply.

Washing machines have come a long way, from a wooden drum powered by motor to high-tech machines that come equipped with automatic washing modes. Bosch washing machines include all the above-mentioned features and provide damage free laundry in an energy efficient way. With 32 different washing modes, Bosch washing machines can create custom wash cycles for different types of laundry, be it lightly soiled linens, or stained woollens. The ActiveWater feature in Bosch washing machines senses the laundry load and optimises the usage of water and electricity. Its EcoSilentDrive motor draws energy from a permanent magnet, thereby saving energy and giving a silent wash. The fear of expensive clothes being wringed to shapelessness in a washing machine is a common one. The video below explains how Bosch’s unique VarioDrumTM technology achieves damage free laundry.

Play

To start your search for the perfect washing machine, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Bosch and not by the Scroll editorial team.