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Reading the South Asian Woman

Payel C. Mukherjee and Arnapurna Rath

By Nasreen Jahan . Translated from the Bengali by Kaiser Haq
Penguin Books, New Delhi, India, 2012, pp. 376, price not stated.


The Bangladeshi writer Nasreen Jahan’s The Woman Who Flew (2012) is a novel translated from the original Bengali Urukkoo (1993) by Kaiser Haq. The title of the novel indicates an act of ‘flying’ from the gross and unrefined in search of the ‘sublime’. The novel depicts the realities of life and the significance of art in the life of those people who live with the harshness of everyday existence. Jahan’s narrative captures the journey of a Muslim woman, Nina who escapes from the monotony of marital life in quest for a deeper connection with her inner self, exploring the ‘artist’ that remains hidden within her mundane existence. It opens a dialogue between the binaries of reality and abstract with Nina’s ‘grotesque’ physical experiences on one side and her emancipated imagination for the creative/artistic on the other.   We analyse The Woman Who Flew as a fictional narrative that explores the sublime through the concept of ‘grotesque’. Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of ‘grotesque realism’ has been characterized by its objectivity and is associated with images of the gross bodily ‘lower stratum’ (Musgrave, 372). Bakhtin has discussed the grotesque body as; The grotesque body, as we have often stressed, is a body in the act of becoming. It is never finished, never completed; it is continually built, created, and builds and creates another body. More-over, the body swallows the world and is itself swallowed by the world (Bakhtin, Rabelais and his World, 317).   Jahan experiments with the element of ‘grotesque’ experienced by Nina. The gross physicality of Nina’s world and her body come directly in conflict with the sublime nature of her aesthetic dreams and her desire to be the artist. In the novel, Jahan often presents sex as a habitual, beast-like inclination of Nina and her husband Rezaul, as an easily attainable and ‘transient get-away’ from lingering domestic brawls. Also, her spatial affiliation relates to encountering the ‘abject’ through the images of ‘urine’ and ‘excrement’ as a part of her daily life in a shabby apartment. Through Nina, Jahan highlights the idea of the grotesque body which is open to probabilistic happening by presenting the aspect of the ‘abject’ as a part of the ‘self’. The ‘self’ in the novel is the impelling factor in the grotesque body which not only restricts it from becoming an overt object but also adds fluidity and helps in developing an artistic consciousness in individuals ...

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