For Bangladesh, I was planning to read Tahmima Anam’s The Good Muslim. But just as I finished the first few pages, I found out that it was a sequel to Anam’s first novel, A Golden Age. So I stopped reading The Good Muslim (for now), and picked up A Golden Age.
The book opens with widow Rehana Haque losing her children in a court proceeding in 1959. Her husband has died suddenly, and his brother Faiz is able to convince the court that Rehana doesn’t have the wherewithal to care for them properly. He and his wife take the children from their home in Dhaka, East Pakistan, to Faiz’s home in Lahore, West Pakistan.
Fast forward to 1971. Rehana’s children, Sohail and Maya, have long since been returned to her. They go to school at the local university, where they are involved in the Bangladesh independence movement. At that time, Bangladesh was part of the Dominion of Pakistan and was known as East Pakistan. Sohail and Maya are optimistic about the results of the recent election, but things aren’t happening the way they expected them to happen.
A near riot at a cricket match that she and her family attend gives Rehana a scare, but she is able to convince herself that everything will be fine: “… suddenly Rehana felt sure it would all resolve itself: Sheikh Mujib would be Prime Minister, and the country would go on being her home, and the children would go on being her children. In no time at all the world would right itself, and they would go on living ordinary, unexceptional lives.”
That is not the case, however, and when the city is suddenly invaded by the Pakistani army, everyone is caught completely off-guard. Rehana’s children become immersed in the resistance movement, and because they are her children, Rehana becomes involved too. She helps Sohail and his friends hide weapons and an injured comrade, and later, she travels to Calcutta, where Maya helps out in a refugee camp. The descriptions of the refugee camp and its inhabitants are particularly poignant.
While the book’s plot centers around the fight for independence for Bangladesh, it is also a book about love – romantic love, love for one’s country, but most of all, a mother’s love for her children. I’m happy to know that there is a sequel, because I’m not yet ready to say goodbye to these characters, and I’m looking forward to reading more of this author’s beautiful writing.
In many of the books I’ve read for this global reading project, I can’t find even one mention of a dish to cook from that country. I had the opposite problem with A Golden Age. There were so many mouth-watering foods described that I had trouble making up my mind which to choose. Dal, biryani, samosas, puris – I wanted it all.
In the end, what I wanted the most was beguni, battered and fried eggplant slices. Rehana makes this dish during Ramadan, an Islamic observance requiring fasting from sunup to sundown, as part of the meal she and Maya will eat after the sun goes down. She knows that Sohail and his friends are out on a dangerous mission, and that occupies her mind while she cooks.
“The fear breathed on her neck and sent the hair upright, electric. It caught her in the double-beat of her heart, the pulse she could feel at her temple, the tremor of her hand as she fried the Iftar food. Beguni, the crunchy strips of eggplant. Chickpeas and tomatoes. The dalpuri Maya had rolled out and stuffed. Orange juice. Tamarind juice. Lassi. It was not elaborate enough for a special occasion, not simple enough to indicate want. A meal for an ordinary day. A meal for a day without war.”
I found the recipe on a blog called Rownak’s Bangla Recipes, which says that beguni is very popular for Ramadan, although eggplant becomes very expensive during that time. The recipe is already vegan, so I didn’t have to make any substitutions for that reason. I couldn’t find carom seeds, which are from the same family as caraway seeds, so I substituted caraway instead. The beguni was tasty, although I’d probably use a little less water in the batter next time, and a little more salt.
I had assumed that my donation for Bangladesh would go to the Grameen Foundation, which was inspired by Mohammed Yunus, a Bangladeshi social entrepreneur and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering work in microcredit and microfinance. However, the Grameen Foundation didn’t seem to have any way for me to earmark my donation for Bangladesh, so I went back to my old stand-by, GlobalGiving.org. They had many projects listed in Bangladesh, but the one that caught my eye, because of Rehana’s devotion to her children, was the Mothers’Clubs in Bangladesh, established by the Hope Foundation for Women &Children of Bangladesh. The purpose of these clubs is to provide mothers with health education, especially information about preventative healthcare, so they can better help their families. More information about the Mothers’ Clubs in Bangladesh is available at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/help-mothers-clubs-for-one-year/.
NEXT STOP: BARBADOS