The submissive, the progressive and the inspired

One of the best things about studying in a Bangla Medium school is that you get to know the next grade’s curriculum even before you are promoted. So, you always had the opportunity to study for the next grade beforehand.

Although I would not necessarily call myself a nerd, this is exactly what I used to do. And this habit made me realize the thoughtful shift in the curriculum.

In 2014, the Bangla literature curriculum was changed, although I had already gone through the old curriculum. Among other stories from the old curriculum, I read ‘Haimanti’, which had been replaced by ‘Aparichita’ as part of the new curriculum. The whole thing might sound very unfortunate, but to me it was eye-opening.

That was the first time I fathomed the power of fiction. It has been five years since I left college, but to think how thoughtfully the replacements were made still leaves me in awe.

Haimanti (1914) and Aparichita (1916) were written on a somewhat similar plot. Both the stories are by Rabindranath Tagore, where he took on the institution of Hindu marriage, the dowry system and the dismal condition of Bangali women. But it was the distinguishable endings that left a mark on me.

In that age of conservatism, Haimanti, who was just 17, was considered to have passed marriageable age. However, her would-be her father-in-law identified some merits in proceeding with marriage and it happened.

But the aftermath of marriage was a nightmare. The adverse environment at the in-laws, continuous pressure for dowry and the absence of support from Apu, her husband de ella, eventually forced Haimanti to sacrifice her life de ella.

Advancing through a similar storyline, Kalyani, the protagonist of Aparichita, was also a victim of dowry and the patriarchy that plagued every other middle-class Bangali household back in the nineteenth and twentieth century.

But fortunately, or unfortunately, her marriage was called off thanks to the unfounded allegations from her would-be uncle-in-law during the wedding. Anupam, her would-be her husband was just another enabler of patriarchy like Apu, who failed to take a stand for what’s right.

Unlike Haimanti, Aparichita decided not to let this incident dictate her future. She decided to empower herself to take on the patriarchy and injustices of society.

Against all odds, she turned into a dauntless woman who started working with underprivileged adolescents, so that they could have a better future.

That is why, when Anupam accidentally met Kalyani on a train some four years later, he could not even recognize her at first. And once he did, he was astonished at the transformation of Kalyani, who had grown into someone far out of his league of him.

Over the next few years, Anupam got to react himself with Kalyani but it was mostly to help her with her work. The relationship was entirely platonic, and Anupam felt quite lucky himself to have known a person like her, to have been able to help her.

Long story short, the dowry system took away Haimanti’s life. But fighting it gave Aparichita a new one.

Aparichita is a fighter, a winner. No wonder, anyone who reads these books would want to be an Aparichita in her life de ella, just like I do. The analytical comparison between these two stories is bold, enlightening and empowering.

A similar analogy can be drawn while comparing ‘Tithir Neel Toale’ (1993) with ‘Se O Nartaki’ (1995), both written by Humayun Ahmed.

‘Tithir Neel Toyale’ is a romantic novel where the lead character Tithi, a young, sensitive woman, falls head over heels in love with Maruf. On the other hand, Maruf is a pathological liar who makes up false stories about almost everything.

Just before they were about to get married, when Tithi’s family members investigated Maruf’s background, he was caught off guard and when confronted, Maruf even threatened her with disclosing details about their physical intimacy to her family members. Naturally, this made Tithi question the future of the relationship, and she eventually decided to call off the marriage.

But a young ‘wise’ man named Nuruzzaman, who was sent to Tithi’s house by her grandfather, and was living with them at the time, advocated highly for Maruf and tried to justify Maruf’s actions (lies and deceits) based on the love he has for Tithi. And guess what, he successfully managed to convince Tithi to revert her decision from her, which altered the ending of the story entirely.

Moving forward to “Se O Nartaki”, I wish I knew exactly what inspired Humayun Ahmed to write this piece, but I am extremely glad that he did.

In this novel, Swati, a 21-year-old free-spirited bold woman, falls for a divorced guy named Hasnat, who has a six-year-old daughter.

Swati loved Hasnat, his arts and his daughter wholeheartedly. But from Hasnat’s end, it was less about love and more about finding companionship and being desperate to get Zahin a new mother.

At one point, Swati gets pregnant with Hasnat’s child. But the fact that Hasnat was still not over his ex-wife and was not emotionally ready to start a new relationship prevented Swati from pursuing the relationship any further. Swati ultimately decided to move on and raise the kid on her own as a single mother.

Both Tithi and Swati fell in love with the wrong men in their lives and did not receive the love they truly deserved. Both of them were fighting with their inner selves, the battle between “what we want” and “what we need”. Tithi followed her her heart where Swati went with her head.

I am not telling you what Tithi did is necessarily wrong, or what Swati did is ideally right. It has been six years since I read Tithir Neel Toyale, yet it is still difficult for me to process that Tithi reconsidered a man who was just a façade. I sincerely hope she lived happily ever after, but I won’t put any bet on it.

On the contrary, I also do not know how challenging it must have been for Swati to raise her kid alone. But with the courage and determination she showed, it feels like someday she will make all the struggle worth it.

All of these books are based on harsh realities, portraying our society. Now it is really up to us which reality we want to embody in us.

We are what we read. That is not to say that we should read carefully or selectively. No, we should read plenty. The more you read, the more alternate scenarios you will find. You will find characters who are just like yourself. And even if you don’t, you will know which characters you aspire to be.

Literature has the power to direct our lives, and give us a better understanding of ourselves and the society we live in.

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