By: SUFIYA AHMED PUFFIN BOOKS
From Sufiya Ahmed the author of the Zahra series comes yet another mind blowing title, “Secrets of the henna girl” a book that I totally enjoyed.
The book is written in the first person and with its setting in the UK and Pakistan, the author used the British English and Urdu which was very easy to understand as the words that appeared in Urdu were translated to English.
“Secrets of the Henna Girl” is about Zeba, a sixteen year old teenager’s ordeal in the hands of her family when she refused to marry her cousin Asif. A marriage arrangement which her father agreed to in order to keep his “Honour” within the family but at the expense of his daughter’s happiness. However, Zeba had the support of her Nannyma (Grandma) and her Aunt who wanted the world for her.
In this book, Sufiya Ahmed explores the subjugation of the women of Pakistan by the strict imposition of Culture which favours the men above all the women generally. Also the oppression of the peasants by some of the rich landlords who do not have respect for the religion they profess.
The issue of domestic violence was addressed as the women were beaten up if they do not accept their husband’s wish. It is claimed that “The HONOUR” of the husband is stained, if a woman does this. So she is battered in order to break her spirit of resistance. This was the fate of Sehar, another victim of forced marriage in the book who became instrumental to Zeba’s freedom
The concept of arranged marriage where both parties consented and a forced marriage where one or both parties were not happy, was distinguished throughout the book.
In the following excerpt from Nannyma’s diary, I found important points to ponder over.
“……………..I see myself in Zeba when I was young. In the stubborn set of her chin, her flashing eyes when she is angry, passionate and even very rarely…happy. She has a mind of her own that cannot fathom the traditions of this village. And that is what the traditions are: traditions, not religion.
The tradition of a father choosing his daughter’s husband
The tradition of marrying cousins to keep land and wealth within the family.
The tradition of a woman never voicing her own likes or dislikes – her own desires.
The tradition of this rural, feudal land has nothing in common with the modern world……….”(Pages 245-6)
While I was digesting the book's contents, my mind kept going to my grandma who was also a victim of forced marriage to her first husband who was much older than her. She went through a lot just as Sehar did. The only difference was that she got her happy ending as she got divorced and later got married to my grandfather. This was her choice and it made her happy.This happened about 75 years ago, as I learn't from my mum, so it was shocking to read that this is happening now in this age and time. I discussed the contents with a friend from Pakistan and she confimed that the issues are real. It is absolutely devastating.
I would recommend this book to every teenager and adult out there as it contains vital pieces information needed to understand ones basic rights.
Other titles by Sufiya Ahmed are: