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September 21, 2008

Page: 17/33

Home > 2008 Issues > September 21, 2008

The art of dancing the life

40 Days and 1001 Nights: One Woman?s Dance through Life in the Islamic World, Tamalyn Dallal, Jaico Books, pp 310, Rs 295.00

One of the world?s most respected exponents of the art of belly dancing, Tamalyn Dallal has not only written two other books apart from the one under review, but also produced several stage productions and dance festivals. The above-mentioned book has been a labour of love and passion for her, thus becoming a life-changing experience and usurping many false notions about herself and the world around. As a belly dancer endowed with plenty of curiosity, she sets out to explore the countries that are predominantly Muslim, spreading from West Africa to Southeast Asia, including 20 per cent of the Earth?s population, since Tamalyn believes, ?there must be more than terrorists and suffering women? there.

She spends the first 40 days in Indonesia. As a belly dancer, she has been listening to Arabic, Turkish and Persian songs most of her life and has danced at hundreds of Middle Eastern weddings. With help from a stranger, she strays from the tourist trail into the tsunami-devastated area of Banda Aceh, an intensely religious state where sharia (Islamic law) is a way of life. While in Banda Aceh, she befriends a local called Arief, who tells her stories of the tsunami-hit area where ?an entire coastline of villages was levelled?; doctors sent from India were not allowed to start working without authorisation despite the much needed medical care; and lack of timber prevented building of homes because ?so many were destroyed that there is not enough wood to rebuild them all.?

She also meets Musafir, who has lost his parents and brothers in the tsunami, and is in love with his girlfriend Fifi. She explains about Islam and says, ?The tsunami came from Allah, who was angry and fed up with the never-ending war.? She feels that the tsunami had brought peace. In any case, she loves Islam and explains the importance of praying five times a day as ?there are always negativity, frustration and problems in life. And when you pray, you can ask Allah for help, strength, insight or anything you need to make life better.?

The author gets to learn more about sharia and how a Muslim woman has to cover her hair and how unmarried couples, if caught kissing, are written about in newspapers or taken to a public area to be flogged for committing the sin of kissing before marriage.

At Bambung, an Islamic lecturer explains to the author that Muslims must believe in six things:

  • God
  • Mohammed as his prophet
  • Angels
  • The holy books (Qur?an and the Bible)
  • Doomsday
  • Destiny

During her stay at Siwa in Egypt, the author learns that homosexual marriages existed in the Siwa oasis till King Fouad banned them in 1928. This was because before marriage, Siwan women were totally off limits, so historically man turned to each other for sex, ?switching to women after marriage?.

The author meets Ali Wazir who tells her that he used to be a ?magician? casting magic spells. He reveals that relatives have to sleep in graveyards for at least three days after a person dies to make sure that ?practitioners of ?bad magic? (usually women) do not rob the graves of body parts.?

On a tour of Malindi, the author reaches an old mansion called Jumba la Buri or free house which was once owned by a wealthy Indian family. Now it lies in ruins. A woman is seen bathing her toddler in a large plastic bowl, perilously close to the orifice. Behind her stands an unusual-looking bed made of woven ropes and propped up against a wall. The author learns that the bed is meant for washing bodies and on being asked why it was kept in the house, the nonchalant reply is, ?With so many living in one place, people are bound to die every so often.?

This book is like undertaking a journey into an unknown world?a world which despite the communication revolution is vastly hidden from our vision. Without an agenda or any expectations the author, Tamalyn Dallal sets out to experience the fine Islamic culture for 40 days each and has an adventurous life which gives her a new perspective on a wide expanse of land of which we have heard much but know very little about.

(Jaico Books, 121 Mahatma Gandhi Road, Mumbai-400 001.)

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