Saturday, October 12, 2013

Review: The Harem

How far would you go to be free? THE HAREM, is a fast-paced novel about young Asian women and their quest for freedom.Farina has only one dream: to be free and move away from Peckville, a Muslim ghetto in a large city. She is eager to escape the clutches of her strict parents who will not let her drink, party or have any kind of contact with males. As soon as she turns eighteen, she sets her dream in motion and gets her own apartment. The only problem is that her minimum-wage job leaves her feeling anything but liberated. How can she resist when her ambitious best friend Sabrina proposes an infallible business idea? How harmful can running as escort agency really be? Will she finally be freed by her increasing wealth and independence, or will she remain enslaved by her increasing guilt?


How far would you go to be free? The words that can be found on the back cover of the book. It would probably be the apt way to concisely describe this wonderful book. When I started reading The Harem, I was a little anxious about where it would go. But the book definitely exceeded my expectations.

Fazlul's book is contemporary and fast read that deals with some very real issues. It is humorous and tragic at the same time. The conversations between the girls is often lighthearted and simple. I found that her writing was uncomplicated though, most of the issues addressed through this fiction story of freedom, restrictions, gender and class biases are mostly very complex. She also discusses beautifully the gender division of labour within a home; the restrictions of living in a muslim ghetto and the immense restrictions that it brought to her identity.

Following the start of the escort agency, Farina begins to see some of the truths in the sex industry. She notices the racist, sexist attitudes of the clients her girls attended to. Despite Sabrina assuring her the women knew what they were getting into, Farina's judgment left her sleepless on many an occasion. She noticed the desperation in some of the girl's eyes when they couldn't get a client for several weeks at a stretch. Though the money it brought in was much more than she imagined, the heavy heart was more than she wished for.

The book despite dealing with very serious issues never bored me. It was interesting the way the character's shaped up. The end however was very disturbing and I found that the maturity with which it was handled commendable.

I would recommend others to read because I found it portrayed relationships and dynamics intricately well. The transition between present and past was also smooth. I refrain from making any assumptions about how this story came to Fazlul but I am glad it did.

Overall rating: 4
Cover rating: 2 (I personally didn't understand it!)
Writing: 3.5
Story: 4
Character sketching: 4

(This book review was long overdue)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sisters and sisterhood

For most of my teenage life, I lived in a cocoon. I knew I was lucky for I had found friends, soul mates in my sisters. Ever since then, I have had the fortune of being surrounded by amazing women who I affectionately referred to as my soul sisters. Some more like me than others but each of them brought to my life a myriad of hopes, dreams and ideas with which we attempted to shape the world around us. We struggled some days and some days we succeeded. All along we decorated our lives with as many colours as possible. With this support from my growing sisterhood, I never felt the need to give up.

I remember the time I began identifying with the word feminist. I remember the powerful things it gave me access to. The biggest part of it was a sisterhood of known, unknown women and men. Women who were vibrant, passionate and wonderful. Women who were entertaining, kind and supportive. Women who gave me strength to continue fighting my battles. Women who inspired me to continue writing. Women who shared my ideals, my ethics. Women who understood and acknowledged the mundane everyday violence and resisted it in the ways they could. Women who went from being victims to survivors. Women who stood for equality and everything else I believed in. Women writers who articulated their struggles. Women writers who years ago spoke of discrimination I know today.

Many of these women are faceless for I have only heard of them from others. But many others are faces I will never forget. The others remain a constant in my life today. Who make even the drudgery of life worthwhile.

To all of you, I thank you. For showing me the warmth of a sisterhood. I thank you, for being my soul sisters.

Link to the soul sisters contest on Women's Web:

Friday, May 10, 2013

To Paris and back...

Recently, I passed the obnoxiously lit up Buddha statue in Hyderabad. It reminded me of a somewhat similarly lit, with a little more class perhaps, Eiffel Tower. Though frankly, the two have little in common barring the lights of course.

Writing about Paris, though, is far from easy. Adjectives don’t describe it well enough. Descriptions seem to not do justice to its remarkable spirit. I find myself failing to accurately portray the effect this city had on me. So, instead I have been wandering in and out of my Paris memories. The experience itself was less body and more soul. There is no less cliche way for me to put it.

The memories are varied. Some are of the ancient street lamps on the streets with a fountain or a sculpture at every junction. Some memories are of the vast public spaces to sit down and read a book. Others are of the one too many quaint coffee shops sprinkled in every arrondissement. Often, I think of the Pont des Arts with the thousands of love locks or fondly in my memory, the bridge of love. Sometimes I remember how grand and magnificent the Lourve looked at night. I get lost in images of how the city lit up subtly at night (of course, not the Eiffel Tower with its lighthouse lights). I remember how warmth spread through my body as we entered an unique bar right next to the circus. I visited the city in the winter and everything indoors was heated! But importantly, the feeling of walking around breathless and in awe of the beauty and charm of Paris. 

I had wondered many times before if people had exaggerated when talking or writing about Paris. After having walked in the city for a mere few days, I felt unsatisfied and a little disappointed at my departure. I vowed to return to Paris someday and stay for a while. To breathe the air, to wander aimlessly, to write in one of those coffee shops, to feel the romance, to know the unknown places to eat, to perhaps even learn about fashion, to get accustomed to the Parisien way of life, to revisit Shakespeare and Company, to see every room in the Louvre, to not feel like an outsider in that city.

Amsterdam: travel thoughts

Four souls who had never been to Amsterdam before made a plan to spend new years in this city. With our guide books as our strength and of course, our secret weapon of asking the locals themselves, we set off. We reached the city of Amsterdam by noon bundled up in warm clothes and high energies. We were truly in for a treat.

Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful cities I have been in. The greenery, the countryside and the craziness was the perfect vacation spot for us, the crazy lot. Throughout our trip we relied on two modes of transport, our feet and the public transport. This was the best way to see the city. And the city we did see. We left our tiny room early and without an agenda on our minds, we wandered the streets. It took walking on the same streets a few times to even recognise the name of the street. The Dutch have a complicated language with words I usually mispronounced. They were warm and didn’t fail to understand despite the badly pronounced names. 

But what I loved about the city was its mix of extremes. Known for its ‘coffeeshops’, the city was high inducing. On the contrary to that was the lovely cycles everywhere and the marvellous river flowing right through the city. We took a nostalgic boat ride through the city to learn many things about the people. For instance, many of the Dutch lived in wooden, long and elegant boathouse. The reason they lived in them was not so nice though. Shortage of space in the city had driven them to the river.

As I play back the trip in my head, I remember all the random walks we took. We even accidentally walked into the red light district. It wasn’t like I imagined it to be but I must say, one of the women’s faces remains with me. I do have one complaint though. Amsterdam as a city is full of tourists. The food, therefore, is customed to their needs. In a small number of local restaurants, we found dutch food. However, our snooping around led us to one of the most marvellous little bakeries where we spent a good few hours binging. From the best cheesecake to the best lemon jam was all consumed in this establishment. If I return to Amsterdam, the first stop would be De Bakkerswinkel.

This trip out of India for me has led me to marvel at the public spaces. The entire city gathered in the centre squares, lit fireworks and drank champagne from bottles. It was goose-bump inducing. I watched the city welcome the new year with zeal. I am not much of a party person but I couldn’t help feel the energy the city radiated that night. As we walked back to our room, we were all high. Not on the alcohol or on any other drugs. But on the joy of celebrating an occasion with complete strangers, on the streets.

I don’t think I will forget that feeling for a long, long time.

This same feeling reminds me that a myriad of cities are waiting to be explored; a whole range of new feelings are waiting to be discovered. I will wander the lands till my heart is content. I doubt that moment is going to arrive anytime soon.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


Thanks to my previous job, I spent a lot of time designing. But the designs were always for someone else. The free time in my life has led me to design some posters just for me. These are quotes by two women writers I completely love...