Women of Pakistan and Bangladesh in Salman Rushdie's Shame

[Added by George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University]

"Women," he sighed resignedly to his daughter, "what a term! Is there no end to the burdens this word is capable of bearing? Was there ever such a broad-backed and also such a dirty word" [62-63].

Immediately after relating how the bomb explosion, that "hot firewind of apocalypse" [63] which destroyed her father's cinema, left Bilqus nude, the narrator comments: In that generation many women, ordinary decent respectable ladies of the type to whom nothing ever happens, to whom nothing is supposed to happen except marriage children death, had this sort of strange story to tell. It was a rich time for stories, if you lived to tell your tale" [66]. Then, after she marries, she finds herself "silenced by the in-law mob. . . and thus acquired the triple reputation of sweet-innocent child, doormat and fool. . . . But she was also admired, grudgingly, because the family had a high opinion of Raza, the women admitted that he was a good man who did not beat his wife. This definition of goodness alarmed Bilqus, to whom it had never occurred that she might be beaten, and she raised the subject with Rani. 'Ph yes,' her cousin-in-law replied, 'how they all hit! Tharaap! Tharaap! Sometimes it does your heart good to watch. But one must also watch out. A good man can go bad, like meat, if you do not keep him cool' [78].

"Arjumand, the famous 'virgin ironpants,' regretted her female sex for wholly non-paternal reasons. 'This woman's body,' she told her father on the day she became a grown woman, 'it brings a person nothing but babies, pinches and shame'" [114].

"Iskander, supine in white-and-gold bed and sunk in frenzied reverie, states with sudden clarity: 'It's a man's world, Arjumand. Rise above your gender as you grow. This is no place to be a woman in'" [136].

Begum Naveed Hyder, the former Good-News Hyder, proved utterly incapable of coping with the endless stream of humanity flowing out between her thighs. But her husband was relentless. . . He came to her once a year and ordered her to get ready, because it was time to plant the seed, until she felt like a vegetable patch whose naturally fertile soil was being worn out by an overzealous gardener, and understood that there was no hope for women in the world, because whether you were respectable or not, the men got you anyway, no matter how hard you tried to be the most proper of ladies the men would come and stuff you full of alien unwanted life. [228]

"'Marriage is power,' Naveed Hyder said. 'It is freedom. You stop being someone's daughter and become someone's mother instead, ek dum, fit-a-fut, pronto. Then who can tell you what to do?"'" [169]

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