Broken Bangles

From the eccentric comforts of the Mona Lisa guesthouse in Dhaka to the dusty frontier town of Peshawar, Hanifa Deen travelled through Bangladesh and Pakistan, meeting and talking to women: mavericks, feminists, starry-eyed foreign wives; actresses and socialites; urban professionals and rural women who had never left their villages, to discover the many faces of Muslim women today.

With humour, compassion and insight, Hanifa Deen relates stories of their fight against oppression, of the friendship of women, of the joys and frustrations of the extended family, of the unwritten laws that govern women’s lives and the violence that can threaten them.

She also stumbles on the trail of a mystery—the murder of Yasmeen, an innocent young girl whose death galvanised a nation and symbolises the danger women face when they dare to step outside the ‘circle of protection.’ 

Shortlisted for the Western Australian Premier's Book Awards, 1998

Read an Excerpt:

Muhammad Abbas missed his wife Khulsoom although his loneliness lay hidden in the heart of his noisy, extended family where a man was never apart for long. The children of Muhammad Abbas were old enough to know that loneliness and being alone were not the same, but they could not stop their kind, soft--eyed father from grieving for their mother, ten years after her death.

At first the children pleaded with him to remarry, to take another wife and become a husband and father again. But now it was clear to all his relatives: his sisters and his brothers, his cousins and uncles and aunts in the village and nearby towns, that Abbas would remain a widower for the remainder of his life. Such a shame, everyone said; he could easily take another wife, a man not yet turned fifty. 'How could I possibly take another wife?' he would say with a sad, half--smile on his face, when one of his four sons or three daughters raised the subject with him yet again.

If the truth be known, some of his friends even secretly envied Abbas: envied him his romantic, steadfast love, even his melancholy, for a woman whose face they sometimes had trouble recalling. Their wives however, remembered her well, remembered the good housewife, the even--tempered woman who smiled and sang as she worked; they remembered her as a young girl, hair neatly plaited under her daputta, as they walked together by the canals giggling on their way to school. They sighed, wishing that their husbands might show a little of the tenderness that Abbas felt for his wife's memory.  

Reviews:

Maria Degabriele - Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context: 
"The opening pages of Broken Bangles indicate that this book is no ordinary collection of life stories....   Deen uncovers the intelligence with which they [the women] live their lives. For instance, the story of the brutal murder of Yasmeen of Dinajpur by three police officers, unfolds through Deen's investigative work and also through Yasmeen's mother's own stream of words. Yasmeen was poor and young and had dared to travel on her own by bus. She was forcibly picked up by three passing police officers, raped, murdered and dumped on the road. The Yasmeen incident attracted wide attention to police brutality and the kind of ideology that allows that sort of thing to happen. And the Yasmeen story becomes emblematic of the threat of that sort of ultimate brutality which controls so many women's lives..."
  Full Review 

   

Judith White, The Australian, 1 May 1998
"Deen could have written a book about this one case [the Taslima Nasreen affair]. Such is not her style. She does not set out to make headlines. That approach, together with her saris and shalwar-kameez, gains her entry to places that remain closed to the most determined of investigative reporters. "

Extract from a Review by Janet Chimonyo, The Sydney Morning Herald, May 17 1998.
"….  Although Australian-born, Deen has a Pakistani ancestry that gave her the kind of entrée money can’t buy when she set out to make contact with local women…. Using an approach akin to Peter Robb’s absorbing study of the Mafia, Midnight in Sicily, Deen weaves a tracery in which the individual stories are held together by her own more general observations and reflections as she travels around.

In particular, her opening chapter about life at the Mona Lisa Guest House is a nicely judged evocation of a group of not terribly well-heeled expatriates holed up in a slightly down-at-the-heel hotel while outside, the annual season of “hartals”, or protests, paralyses Dhaka. Trapped inside the benevolent tyrannies of the Mona Lisa with Deen, I was reminded of a similarly memorable guesthouse – V.S Naipaul’s Hotel Liwardat Srinigar in his classic An Area of Darkness….

The last thing Deen wants to do is suggest is that these are the deliberations of the all-knowing outsider intent on a mission of revelation."

Extract from a Review by Bron Sibree, Canberra Sunday Times 21 June 1998
"Rather than play the objective observer, Deen weaves herself into the narrative of Broken Bangles in a way that is at times reassuring, always questioning, and at times judgmental. In the novel [sic] she openly challenges one middle-class woman in Pakistan who confides to feelings of intense oppression, despite her privileges.

Neither does she let Islam off the hood entirely, as she teases out the influences of tradition, poverty and illiteracy in this patchwork of women’s lives…. It is in Bangladesh, too, while talking to the young widow of a rickshaw driver whose take-home pay was $A1.20, that Deen began to probe her own values and motives.  She wondered, “if I wasn’t suffering from compassion burnout. I’ve always believed that we have choices.”  But it was when the 40 kg widow turned to her and said, “we never wanted for anything” that Deen began to question this and much of what she believes as fallacy, as “an extravagant notion”.  She says softly, 'I felt ashamed.' "