Three Daughters of Eve

image.jpg-largeSometimes a book comes along that speaks boldly to our times. As it chips away at the brick and mortar, the ideas contained in it overwhelms and perhaps unsettles, forcing readers to sit back and confront truths that plague modern society. ‘Three Daughters of Eve’, Elif Shafak’s novel, is that kind of book. My 5th read since the summer began and undoubtedly, my favorite.

It is scary how polarized humanity is in our time; where every faction boasts of the certainty of its own ideas and beliefs and religion continues to be at the center of all the raging debates be it cow vigilantism or equal rights. The novel, constructed in elegant and poignant prose makes complicated theological and political questions readable and relevant. It does not matter where you are or what the political climate of your nation, the ideas transcend boundaries of several kinds and they do so, unapologetically. The things the book has to say and the way it says them are extraordinary.

‘Three Daughters of Eve’ is an intense, discursive and absorbing novel about three middle-eastern women, each studying at Oxford, with dramatically contrasting views on faith and personal identity. A spiritually ambiguous female lead character guides us through parallel stories set in Istanbul and Oxford till at least the two come together seamlessly through her soul-searching and persistent questioning.

I will not give away the plot as I am hoping that some of you will pick this book off a shelf or download it onto your devices to read it when you can, but the central character ‘Peri’, is so well fleshed out and wonderfully presented, I could not help bonding with her from the first time our paths crossed. Peri defies the stereotype that Muslim characters are sometimes relegated to and her own quest for answers to questions around her conflicting ideas of faith and identity is the arterial idea of the novel.

 “God was a maze without map, a circle without a center; the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that never seemed to fit together. If only she could solve this mystery, she could bring meaning to senselessness, reason to madness, order to chaos, and perhaps, too, she could learn to be happy.” 

Having spent time in both Istanbul and Oxford I welcomed the chance to immerse myself in their sturdy presence in the story. They are as much central characters in this novel as the people are and Shafak writes about them in beautifully vivid prose all the time her love for the complexities of her homeland strikingly evident.

By the time I got to the end, the novel had pushed me to consider so many ideas – life, love, friendship, faith, God, humanity, forgiveness and revenge but instead of closure and answers, it left me with more questions than I had when I began reading.

How well do we know ourselves?

How perfect do we think we are?

How would I respond in a moral crisis like the one Peri is faced with?

How exact is our self image?

How hard is it to say sorry?

I’m certainly going to raid Shafak’s back catalogue after this fantastic introduction to her beautiful writing. If you happen to read the novel I would love to her your views.

Ever since I turned the last page, I have been experiencing that familiar sensation you get after reading a fantastic book. That intuitive feeling that something within you has moved, been affected, changed perhaps? How wonderful is the power of 366 pages of parchment paper and some spectrum ink.

 

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Egypt’s Uncertain Future

Growing up, I looked forward to attending Sunday school each week. Every detail of the stories I heard and the lessons I learned lingered in my sub-conscience right through the week. Of the many stories and parables I heard over the years, one in particular has stayed with me – the story of Moses and the Pharaoh. The tale of the oppressive Egyptian ruler, who was overthrown by God and rejected by his own people, continues to enthrall and fascinate me even today.

However uncanny it may seem, this story is not just an ancient myth. It is an accurate vision of what happens, again and again, when despots and tyrants become addicted to power and are at first unwilling and then simply unable to change themselves or the lands they rule over. The biblical story of the tyrannical Pharaoh, the plagues, the rebellions and finally the Exodus, are still being played out today in various renditions all across the Arab world.

In the last few years we have witnessed how profound and relevant this story is all over the Arab world and particularly in Egypt. And now in a symbolic show of solidarity, Egypt’s new President-Elect Mohamed Morsi has taken an oath of office right in the centre of Tahrir square, the epicenter of recent mass protests. He has vowed to be the voice of the people, he has promised to be their hands and their unbiased and unprejudiced representative.

I’m sure that Mohamed Morsi is well aware of the fact that the people of Egypt and the rest of the world will be watching his every move. All over the world, Egyptians young and old are looking to him to deliver on the promises he has so eloquently been making. His mandate is of mammoth proportions. Not only does he have to form a government but he must also find resolutions to a variety of burning issues that Egypt is yet to deal with.

So many questions arise. Will he accept restrictions on his power? Will he be the voice of the people who have elected him to office? Will he be the force that shakes the pillars of the state and catapults the country out of its present disarray? Will Egypt become the Islamized state that the Muslim Brotherhood had once envisioned? The questions remain unanswered, there are still lingering voices of skepticism and the future is still quite uncertain. Only time will tell.

There is no doubt that these are historic times for Egypt. Years from now little children will open their history books to read about the changes that swept through this desert land. The people have proved that they can move mountains. They have shown what collective will and fortitude can accomplish. And just as quickly as this breath of fresh air has brought relief to her millions, uncalled for military interference or another incompetent leader can lead to prolonged periods of civil war and unrest in Egypt.

Morsi’s free election is no doubt a monumental and significant milestone for the modern-day Pharaoh but his task is not an easy one. Egyptians may have successfully put years of persecution and unrest behind them, but it’s the future they need to cultivate carefully. Their fight for freedom is not over yet. In this confused political climate of our world, anything is possible…and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Obama the Evolver

Anyone remotely willing to read between the lines of Obama’s previous public statements on gay marriage could tell that he personally did not have a problem with it, but I guess all along he was just afraid of the political repercussions of involving himself in such a mammoth social issue.

Now suddenly, in an interview to ABC that has unleashed a media frenzy world over, he has publically affirmed his belief that civil unions cannot take the place of a marriage and that those who choose to enter into same-sex marriages should have the right to do so.

Now, even though that’s a courageous sand to take, I’m led to believe that his reasons were political and not personal as he so eloquently professed to T.V titan Robin Roberts of ABC.

I think it’s very brave of him in a way, a gamble even, because with this, Obama risks of course alienating a huge section of conservative voters. But with this unexpected heroic move, he has carefully and tactfully roped in the support of America’s large LGBT community and with it a significant number of voters.

My cynicism however stems from a question that has been nagging me since I heard him on the interview. Does Obama really believe in same-sex marriages? Has his understanding and personal opinion really been evolving like he professes? Or is this just another case of a politician sacrificing his personal philosophies and principles at the altar of unprecedented political power? Isn’t it even moderately strange that someone who has been so tight-lipped about gay marriage has suddenly flipped 360 at this crucial point in his re-election campaign?

You see, suddenly this declaration is all that people are talking about. No one cares for the state of the American economy anymore. Nobody’s asking pointed political questions about poverty and unemployment. The focus has been shifted so strategically that one must question the motives of this government. Suddenly, just like that, Romney’s voice has been silenced and even if this game isn’t over yet, this certainly is a trump card for President Obama.

Will The Congress Get Its Mojo Back?

These are tough times. The world is going through major upheavals and the very fabric of nations is being unwoven and re-structured ceaselessly and no other political party has seen as many lows as the Congress Party has in this their turbulent term in Parliament. The Indian National Congress, my dear friends, has clearly lost its mojo!

Having governed India for over three decades since our Independence, the party and its leaders have had a significant role in guiding India to the global force she has gradually grown into. But politics is an unpredictable game, the rules change within moments and the players are often left wondering what went wrong.

Scams, scandals, hit and miss statements made by party bigwigs, inflation, corruption, reservations, Anna Hazare (enough said) – the party has had to deal with it all, and more – in a tumultuous term thus far. So where does the problem lie? Why is it that this glittering clan of parliamentarians suddenly faces the collective disapproval of the masses? How can such a strong party be losing favour with the very people that voted them into power?

In my personal opinion I think the roots of the problem lie in several little details and past indiscretions – but,  if the party must evolve, improve and save face, there are two crucial issues they must consider. I’m no authority on the subject and don’t profess to have any in-depth understanding into the workings of governments but, there are clear indicators that the party has issues that it needs to deal with as a matter of urgency.

The Congress brand has taken a beating, that’s a given. The reason I think this has happened is that there is a clear duality of power and responsibility within the ranks. As things stand, it is clear that Mrs. Gandhi’s role in the UPA gives her clear veto powers over our diffident Prime Minister. Without going into all the implications of the thought, it is safe to say that this send s out mixed messages to everyone in the party and to the country as a whole which is clearly wrong and unacceptable for so many reasons.

Secondly, for very long the party has been run like a family business. Only now are polls held to determine positions within the youth wing of the party and it is yet to be seen if they will do the same for the position of party president. But, don’t voters and the aam janta deserve to have options? Shouldn’t there be democracy within the party that is ruling the world’s largest democracy?  Who knows, it may just prove to be the shot in the arm the Congress needs to rejuvenate itself.

As of now, things seem a little calmer than 2011. With the UPA elections around the bend, Rahul Gandhi has jumped into crisis management mode but, irrespective of whether he manages to save the party from disgrace or not, I hope this period of calm will be used to reflect, to respond, to act and to finally flip the fortunes of a party that is in shambles and a nation that needs rulers with integrity, conviction and a moral compass.