Loss of Innocence
The loss of innocence can never be recouped. Even if it is ‘repaired’ the scars will remain for ever. The wise saying goes, if wealth is lost, nothing is lost, if health is lost something is lost, if character is lost, everything is lost. The loss of innocence is related to the negativities of the world around. Moving a step forward, one can say that it is related to youth and ignorance. If one does something, which the society is not willing to accept, and the doer comes to know about the gravity of the incident after the act has been committed, that as well could be a case of loss of innocence. There is no cut and dry formula to define or describe loss of innocence. The aspect of innocence may vary from one society, community and religion to another. Its interpretation depends upon place, time and situation.
The values of different societies are not uniform. The loss of innocence in abnormal circumstances will hurt an individual psychologically, emotionally and in the worst cases, physically. If one spends the entire life atoning for an act or acts of cowardice, immoral and betrayal committed in his youth, one may feel a sense of liberation from an undefined bondage, but the act itself can not be deleted from the stored compartments of the mind. The individual will suffer the emotional scars silently and the physical scars are a grim reminder to the society around, as to the suffering experienced.
In a backward society as in Afghanistan, life moves slowly than the normal pace. The Afghan intelligentsia (the section committed to fundamentalism) is aware of the implications of such a statement. According to their standards, they are the most progressive, God fearing and God-loved society. Right or wrong, that is their belief. But if the belief and values are that of the society as a whole, any individual who is not part of that system can not object to the operation of the system. On closer scrutiny, one finds that roughly half of the Afghan society, the female section, irrespective of the age limits, has no role to play, other than purely domestic, expect being confined to the four walls of the society. Their life is as good as that of the prisoners condemned to solitary confinement. Their participation is limited to producing children, male issues are mostly wanted, and to perform the domestic chores. They are completely at the mercy of the uncultured men-folk, who have no respect for human rights. Afghanistan is like a strange polluted island in an ocean. This is not however, not to praise the men-folk in other societies. Even there, perhaps, you have never heard a discussion or spiritual discourse on the topic, “Men-their role in the society.” The discussion is always about women. Men have, perhaps, no role! It is not that the men can not do some of the jobs normally done by women! You know that the best chefs are men! The never ending talk of giving equal rights to women goes on unabated! All the Acts of the Parliaments in the world over will not bring equality for women. The change has to be achieved within-both men and women! How can you give equal rights to women? God had created her, given her the status of more-equal. Men can not take that position. It is the mother, who gives protection for initial nine months to the divine creative force of the future- male or female! What is prescribed in sacred texts of any religion and what is interpreted and practiced in the society today are contradictory. A female child is victimized at every step of life, from the moment of birth, notwithstanding the fact that it is she who sacrifices at those steps. Women need to be the legal and spiritual equals of men. A society can not make anything out of the mass of spiritual literature, if it is unable to see divinity in women!
What are the trends in Afghanistan? They are ably depicted in Khaled Hosseini’s “A Thousand splendid Suns.” But the sun in the lives of women in Afghanistan never rises. Listen to the current stories of two suffering women in a country. That probably is the story of women as a whole of that entire country. Khaled’s story focuses on mothers and daughters and friendships between women. The mother in the Afghan society has taken it for granted and accepted suffering as part of her life. Her greatest torture is when she observes and realizes daily that the plight of her young growing daughters would be the same as that of their rotten lives. That is the greatest tragedy of their existence. The emotional impact of the suffering of Afghan women vividly described by Khaled, through his crafty style is profound and it pierces the heart of the reader.
Afghanistan has a history of violence. In the atmosphere of recurring bouts of violence, the social fabric is damaged. Uncertainty grips every type of activity, whether it is family life, social life or the system of governance. Economy suffers grievously. A big section of the society women and children in particular, resign to the fate due to the abnormal pressure of the circumstances in which they find themselves. Unhappy families, torturous marriages, governments that rule with highhandedness and repressive cultural traditions are accepted as inevitabilities. .
Marriage is not an ordinary union of the male and the female. Two distinct individuals, two separate personalities, born, bred and brought up in two different sets of circumstances try to come together from the day of the marriage to find a common identity, a common goal and to be precise, a common all to live together harmoniously. In this novel, everything for women characters starts on a wrong note. The teenage Mariam’s mother commits suicide. Mariam is the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy man, and she is ashamed of her existence. She can not assert herself from any platform on account of her weak position. She is married off to a shoemaker, Rasheed, much older than her. “Nor was she old enough to appreciate the injustice, to see that it is the creators of the harami who are culpable, not the harami, whose only sin is being born.” (Hosseini, .2007, p.4)
From the very beginning, Mariam was not wanted by either her mother or father and then latest one to mentally torture her was her husband, Rasheed. He is a two-legged animal in human form. He is a brute, and is obsessed with ideas of controlling his wife. The male commands are delivered one after another. Each and every molecule of his body and mind is poisoned with illogical, ill-feelings. He behaves like a mad bull and subjects Mariam to scorn, insults and ridicule and treats her like an animal. “Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman.”(p.. 7) Mariam was taught this lesson right from her childhood and it held good throughout her life. Rasheed forces her to wear a burqa, and hates her for nothing. He ill-treats her without rhyme and reason. She lives in fear of his changing moods, his unpredictable temperament, his adamancy on steering even mundane exchanges down a confrontational path that, on occasion, he would react with punches, slaps, kicks, and sometimes try to make amends for with rough and vague apologies and sometimes not.
More troubles lay ahead with Rasheed’s second marriage. The area of ruination stands expanded. Laila belongs to an intellectual family, and her father wishes that she pursue her higher studies, and with such a grim turn in her life, she becomes utterly cynical. More cruelty awaits her. A rocket lobbed by one of the war factions which fight for control of Kabul, on the withdrawal of the Soviets leaves her life shattered. The rocket lands on her house and the parents are killed.
She has a boyfriend, Tariq, something that is incomprehensible in the brutally traditional Afghan society, and he has left with his family to Pakistan as refugees. She has no one to console in her desperate turn of life. The dramatic turn of the story becomes more acute, she finds that she has Tariq’s child in her womb, and the latest information about Tariq shatters her completely. He has supposedly died from injuries from the rocket attacks at Pakistan border. She agrees to marry Rashid under extreme duress, as the streets of Kabul are not safe for a lone woman.
Two desperate and unfortunate women are compelled to live together, with a man with animal tendencies. The pitiable condition of Mariam iw worst. Now she has the rival to ‘share her love.’ Then Laila’s baby arrives. The motherly feelings in Mariam sprout and she changes her attitude and her disposition towards Laila softens. Soon they become allies against their common enemy; they offer moral support to each other. Rasheed continues to fret and fume for no reason, his demands increase, but the union of women saves the situation to some extent. Mariam is now the second mother to Aziza. In he initial chapters the story moves in snail’s pace and the set-up is routine. “Gradually, however, Mr. Hosseini’s instinctive storytelling skills take over, mowing down the reader’s objections through sheer momentum and will. He succeeds in making the emotional reality of Mariam and Laila’s lives tangible by conjuring their day-to-day routines; he is able to give us a sense of what daily life was like in Kabul — both before and during the harsh reign of the Taliban.”( Kakutani, 2007)
In the opening chapters, Khaled depicts the story of two diametrically opposed women characters and how they are compelled to live together and how gradually a loving reconciliation occurs between them probably due to the divine intervention of another character, the child Aziza. Mariam , is born with the stigma of an illegitimate child. Laila had the great fortune to enjoy the love of a doting father and a protective boyfriend. Then destiny strikes, the evil deeds of Taliban show their ugly effects to destroy peace in Afghanistan, leaving telling results on majority of the families. Rasheed has a field day debasing his two wives intentionally as the new laws of governance of Taliban favored men, and the suppression of women on all counts gets further impetus.
That such brutalities can happen under any religious/political banner is difficult to imagine, yet one need not imagine, they are the real life stories in Afghanistan. The beard patrols of Taliban roam the streets in Toyota trucks to punish the clean shaven faces. Women in labor are turned away from the hospitals under the plea that men and women are expected to be seen at different hospitals. Doctors have to wear burkhas in the operation theatre and women agree for Caesarians without anesthesia. People always find a way out to beat the ruthlessly implemented illogical interpretation of the religious texts. For example, “Hosseini shows us the “Titanic’ fever” that gripped Kabul in the summer of 2000, when pirated copies of that film turned up in the city: entertainment-starved people surreptitiously dug out their TVs (which had been hidden away, even buried in backyards) and illicitly watched the movie late at night, and riverside vendors began selling Titanic carpets, Titanic deodorant, Titanic toothpaste, even Titanic burqas.”(Kakutani, 2007)
Taliban’s fundamentalism has badly affected the education of girls and employment of educated women. “The impact of Taliban restrictions on women is most acutely felt in cities such as Herat and Kabul, where there are some numbers of educated and professional women. At one time, Kabul University had several thousand women students. Partly due to employment restrictions, but particularly as a result of deteriorating economic conditions throughout the country, many women and children have been forced to beg on the streets.”(Fact Sheet, 2001) This is the reality life in Afghanistan. War, terrorism and the grave uncertainties resulted from the heinous acts against the people. Giving good novels about Afghanistan has become the habit with Khaled Hosseini. The novel creates stunning effects because what is written is not the imaginative fictional account, but the grim state of affairs that grievously affect the lives of people, especially women!
Survival instinct dominates the novel, and all other essentialities of life are pushed to the background. It is just like living in the war-zone that is likely to be bombed to ruination at the most unsuspected moment. The historic events in Afghanistan, which have deep political undertones, are woven around two women characters of entirely different background. When fear grips the lives of people, friendship, companionship and love take the backseat and they can not be enjoyed and experienced in the truest sense.
The levels of relationships have been narrated in the proper perspective by Khaled. There are villains like Rasheed and good people like Tariq and Laila’s father. At times, one is obliged to think that the characters in the novel are made to order and they have been planted on an artificial turf. The story of Afghanistan is the saga of suffering of the people, and the atrocities committed by the rulers. The people waited for happiness and liberation in the real sense, in short gasps of breath. Firstly Soviets overthrew monarchy, people hailed them only to suffer another kind of oppression. Mujahdeen overthrew Soviets, people hailed them to experience repression. Taliban took over, people applauded them and the era of mindless cruelty and trampling of the rights of women began. Misery for the people continues unabated. “The bond between Mariam and Laila and how they’re lives emerge out of the dust, after being trodden by Rasheed is good, but not unique or surprising. But there are moments in the novel which are very evocative…” (Wajid, 2007)
The personal tragedies of two women have been brilliantly interwoven in to the national tragedies of Afghanistan, which happen in the country with clockwork precision. The inner strength of women has been depicted powerfully in the novel. It is the dominant theme. The author gives a forceful portrait of highhandedness of the worst type where women are dependent on fathers, husbands and especially sons, the bearing of male children, repeat the bearing of the male children, being their only path to an accepted social status.
Keeping aside their mutual heartburning, Mariam and Laila face their ‘common enemy’—their own husband! Ultimately she kills Rasheed, when she comes to know about his plan to kill Laila. She challenges her destiny, but eventually accepts her fate, but after offering a spirited fight. As for the men characters the endless capacity for evil has been depicted. Rasheed would have killed both Mariam and Laila, had Mariam not killed him first. She is later arrested for murdering Rasheed and executed in the stadium in front of a very big gathering. Under the Taliban Government ‘rules’, he would have escaped any punishment. Women suffered all sorts of brutalities and insults under this regime and the law did nothing against the atrocities heaped on women by men.
This novel is to be viewed from two angles. As one would view to appreciate the container as well as the content! Khaled writes in simple, but deceptive style. What happens to the life of a woman when she is trapped in a love-less marriage and awful events happen in the country in which she lives? How she copes up the nightmares within the house and outside the house? Since the reader is likely to identity some of the events of suffering to one’s personal life, the impact of the story is deep. What is the genesis behind the evolution of such a brutal unforgiving, intolerant society? The gross maltreatment of women was there in Afghanistan even before the Taliban took over. But that was at individual levels, though on a mass scale. Taliban institutionalized it. It got the demonic and universal ‘legal’ sanction.
Hosseini, Khaled: Book: A Thousand Splendid Suns
Hardcover: 372 pages
Publisher: Riverhead (May 22, 2007)
Kakutani, Michiko: Article: A Woman’s Lot in Kabul, Lower than a House Cat’s. Published in New York Times May 29, 2007.
www.nytimes.com/2007/05/29/books/29kaku.html – Retrieved on October 24, 2008
Andaleeb Wajid.: Article dated 20 Aug 2007: A Thousand Splendid Suns
<andaleeb-wajid.sulekha.com/blog/post/2007/08/a-thousand-splendid-suns.htm – 43k> Retrieved on October 24, 2008
Fact Sheet dated October 30, 2001.Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women’s Issues. Washington, DC.
<www.state.gov/g/wi/rls/5795.htm – 35k -> – Retrieved on October 24, 2008