Title: Sultana’s Dream and Padmarag
Author: Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain
Rating: 3.5/5 ★★★½
Sultana’s Dream and Padmarag is one of the rare bold texts written by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain which experiments with the existing and prevalent gender binary in our society. Hossain was a Bengali writer, social activist, educationist and advocate of female rights. Each year, in Bangladesh December 9th, is known as Rokeya Day to honor her work for women empowerment.
Sultana’s Dream is a satirical narrative written in 1905 depicting a female utopian land Ladyland, an unconventional and inverted world where men follow the purdah system and are confined to Mardana doing the household mundane chores and women walk out of their homes and runs the place liberating themselves from the pre-conceived notions of women not being able to handle power and responsibility.
Ladyland, an imaginative world came into existence consequential to the failure of men in the war which resulted in a treaty in which the men agreed to stay in Mardana and women became the in charge of home and workplace. Hossain profoundly tells the readers that human brain rather than masculine strength is a lethal weapon potent against any army and hence stressing upon the importance of education which is mandated in Ladyland under the Queen. This story also sheds light on the irrelevance of gender disparity in the area of science and technology as women in Ladyland uses concentrated solar heat stored by women in the universities against the enemy. So, in a nutshell, within a few pages, it struck an epiphany that integrity, honesty, technology, ethics, and knowledge are the ingredients of a harmonious society and is not unattainable.
Padmarag, first published in 1924 is a Bengali text translated by Hossain illustrating the social emancipation of women from patriarchal oppression. Set against the backdrop of times when women are bounded by certain rules defined by the society, this book is a revelation as several women who are divided by caste, race, and religion are united by education, philanthropy, and kindness.
Sultana’s Dream deals with imagination, whereas Padmarag brings us closer to reality where women who were once dejected, frowned upon, marginalized, and downtrodden from all walks of life come together in Tarini Bhawan as “sisters” for an educational, healing and philanthropic purpose. The story is a bildungsroman of Siddhika, a Muslim girl betrothed at an early age only because of her financial well-being. Upon failing to quench the greed of the groom she was rejected. And then, she decides to never look back and carry on with her deeds at Tarini Bhawan. The last few pages of this book is a marked admiration that women’s happiness is not restricted to the household but is a sense of responsibility to work for women upliftment and encourage others to not to bend the knee to such vices and strike back with determination.
In spite of a dismal storyline, Padmarag is a refreshing read which addresses issues that were unimaginable in the era it was written. Even though, times have changed but the concerns remains the same. So, this is a perfect amalgamation of a provocative prose with a pinch of poetry and is a must-read.