This novel set against the tumultuous period of pre-Independence is about a 17-year old Muslim girl Safia who is married to a 28-year old barrister named Abbas, hailing from a reputed family of Lucknow and headed by Justice Jafri.
Abbas is a staunch Marxist and a few days after marriage gets imprisoned for indulging in revolutionary activities. Safia has a tough time living with her mother-in-law Begum Zeenat who never lets a moment pass without making a nasty comment on her daughter-in-law Safia. Begum Zeenat, a frustrated woman, discovers that her husband Justice Jafri is shifting to Allahabad. Since Abbas is in prison, she persuades Justice Jafri to take Safia along with him, quite aware that her husband Jafri would be taking his mistress Sylvia Robinson along with him. Begum Zeenat however convinces herself that in a way Safia would keep a watch on her husband Justice Jafri'sdoings and may serve as a deterrent.
Abbas gets released from prison and the husband-and-wife duo of Abbas and Safia embark on a journey just as the nation is moving towards Independence. Safia offers her husband support in all his activities. Seeing her involvement, Abbas is thrilled.
Safia joins a college in Allahabad to do graduation and comes across a boy Sadaqat who falls in love with her and asks her to leave her husband and go and live with him as his wife as soon as Pakistan comes into existence. But Safia tells him in no uncertain terms, ??as far as your homeland is concerned, if it really does come into existence, you are welcome to it. I was born an Indian and God willing, I shall die as one and be buried here.?
Safia, in a journal she publishes, describes a very touching incident. She says that when her mother dies in a rotten state, a woman comes to wash the corpse. She offers fifty-one rupees for the burial bath but the woman prepares to leave, refusing the money. When that author insists, she replies, ?I am not a professional. I am the first wife of a man who has three. My three children and I have to eat. This was the only job with maximum compensation and least competition for any illiterate Muslim woman. Your sister had also come for me. God rest her soul.?
After gaining information and experience on the plight of Muslim women, Safia writes in her journal that separate religious systems have their own definitions of freedom. ?Man leant to know man? but the woman was left out in the cold. In major socio-political decisions, the women were not even consulted.? She asks: Why should Muslim women cover themselves in the black abaya from head to toe and why should a judgement (the Shah Bano case) which brings about social reform, giving a better deal to women, produce ?a hostile reaction from the men of the country?? She specially mentions Najma Heptullah who in Parliament had said, ?lslam was not made by the Parliament or the Supreme Court. They have no right to interfere.?
Here is a book that should be read by every Muslim and Hindu to understand the plight of the Muslim woman and the fanaticism of the fundamentalists.
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