Friday, 2 November 2012


A short story I entered into a competition; though I did not win, it was an honour to have been judged by such a prestigious group of renowned writers. Now, I share it with you. I was inspired by what domestic violence groups, like 'NOUR DV,' are doing. NOTE: This is a work of fiction.

Love is a fiend, a fire, a heaven, a hell,
Where pleasure, pain and sad repentance dwell.
*Richard Barnfield, 1574-1627*


               The sun, ablaze, feels like it’s disintegrating through the roof only to target me. My parents would rather that I stir cloves, cumin seeds, and cinnamon sticks into a pot of boiling tea, than enjoy a relaxing dip in the lake.  
               While I cannot grasp how it is that aromatic spices taste like the soil beneath my own cinnamon-complexioned feet, my mother commands, “Rumi Begum, why can’t you seem to keep your shawl on your head?” Mother is a short and stubby woman, but she lives up to matriarchal standards.
              “It keeps slipping off my head… and what if it catches on fire?” I refute, pointing to the gas beneath the teapot. Why can’t we just buy a kettle and have tea like the British do, simple and quick? “My arms are getting tired,” I moan.
             “Stop complaining! You’re nearly done. The guests have arrived.”
             With that, Mother struts off to keep the guests company. The guests, I think to myself, the guests…that have come all the way from England, just to see me, apparently. Who knows what the truth is; Mother’s known to embellish her stories.  
Regardless, she powders my face, slaps some crimson gloss onto my lips and blushes my cheeks to match my crimson salwar. To top it all off, she outlines my eyes with liquid eyeliner and fake lashes. I hate makeup! Why mask my face as if I’m ashamed of how I look? I’m sure men prefer confident women.
            “I’m perfectly fine with how I look, Ma,” I say. “Any man who sees a woman with dark skin and long, silky hair like mine will drop to his knees and present me with, what’s that famous ring…Tiffany! A Tiffany diamond ring.”
           “Tut!” she hisses before tucking my plaited hair beneath a shawl.
            Tray in-hand, I try to obediently follow instructions. Lowering my gaze, I attempt to daintily tiptoealong the corridor, but the cacophony of my bangles and anklets won’t let me.
             Kneeling down, eyes nearly-shut, I place the tray gently onto the table and serve firstly, Mr. Potential-Husband-to-be, followed by his parents. Finally, my parents.
            What’s wrong with me? I ask myself. How is it that I’m considering to marry a complete stranger? I have no idea what his name is, what he does, what’s his favourite colour or his favourite movie.
            In fact, I’m far from comfortable about the entire situation, but it’s my fault for not asking my parents anything about him beforehand.
            This is just the beginning, I convince myself, taming my panic attack. It’s only the first meeting. I don’t have to decide right away…. Mother promised. Father promised.
            Next thing I know, the teacup slams back down on top of the tray. Startled, I blink, but I refuse to look up at him. What if he’s hideous? I imagine his character via his shiny black shoes and grey trousers. Smart? I hope.
             I look back at the empty teacup on top of the tray and I realize what he’s done. Mr. Potential-Husband-to-be has sipped my tea, in its entirety, despite the fact that I mixed into it, salt, instead of sugar. Salt, my desperate
attempt to make him hate my tea so much that he’d hate me.
             I decide that he deserves a glance. He has a sweet smile.
            “The tea was lovely. May I have another cup?” he asks.
             I giggle. Feeling Mother’s glare on me, I quickly cover my mouth and scurry into the kitchen. I’m making another cup of tea for Mr. Husband-to-be, mixing in sugar this time. 


            As nature intended, I familiarize myself with every door, corridor, and staircase in our British home. I’m accustomed to darkness so in the middle of the night, if I need a glass of water or to use the toilet, neither do I open my eyes nor turn on the lights. I’m programmed to know my home.
            Even marriage is a routine. During the week, I serve my husband, Jagirdar, tea and breakfast. When he comes home in the evening, the table is set for dinner. On weekends, he prefers to be home unless out with friends. I, Rumi Jagirdar, am a homemaker because my Bangladeshi high school education does not measure up to British standards of office work or, so, my husband claims. I trust him. I trust that everything my husband does and says is right. If I were on one end of the blind justice scale and he, on the other, he would always be more right than I.
            The smoke detector alarms. I dash down the stairs and turn the gas off in the kitchen. The house is pungent with the smell of burnt rice. I open all the windows and doors of the house. I, then, put on another fresh pot of rice. While that pot boils, I attempt to salvage some immaculately white rice from inside the burnt pot. But, it’s all doomed. The rice at the top is off-white, the rice at the middle is brown and the rice at the very bottom is a black bed that is impossible to scrape out. I have to throw the pot away as it’s damaged.
            It’s nearly 7:00 p.m. He’s going to home any minute, expecting dinner to be spread across the table. While I wait for the new pot of rice to boil to completion, I think about how our rice cooker had been dead for a week now. He promised to give me some cash to purchase a new one, but he forgot. I hope he remembers tonight.
I hear the sound of keys outside. He’s early! Think of an excuse, any excuse that can save me from the embarrassment, I tell myself. The rice burnt because I fainted. I hate lying to him.
            Spraying away with the lavender-scented canister, I run to the door. I welcome him in.
Sniffing the air, he asks, “Is something burning?”
             “The rice….”
             “You left it on the stove and forgot all about it again, didn’t you?”
             “No, I fa….” I hate lying to him. “I’m sorry, but there’s a fresh pot, almost ready.”
             “I’m starving,” he robotically replies as he places his coat on the rack and takes off his shoes.
              “By the time you freshen up, the table will be set. I promise.” I smile, my mouth quivering.
              He swiftly lashes his belt out from his trousers. I squint my eyes as I’m a mere two feet in front of him and his belt could whip against the wall and  against my arm. It misses. I step away from him, but he steps forward and lashes the belt out against the wall again, nearly hitting me.
              He looks like a ravenous lion on the hunt for his prey.
             “I’m hungry,” he repeats. “And with all these windows and doors open, I’m freezing cold.”
              The heels of my bare feet hit against the staircase, causing me to fall back. The purple canister rolls out of my hands. As if animal instinct, he’s suddenly mesmerized by it.
              Then, with fiery eyes, as red as the sun was on the first day I met him,
              Jagirdar rhetorically asks, “You think that sweet lavender scent mixed with the burnt rice odour is…soothing to the nose?”
I gulp down tears. Don’t cry; remember what happened the last time you cried? Don’t cry, I secretly whisper to the generator of all emotions, my heart. Then, I remember reading a biology library book on the heart as an involuntary organ, which means that it’s out of my control.
               I start sobbing.
               As the tears cascade down my cheeks, I shut my eyes tightly, believing that if I don’t see the belt, I won’t feel the sting of it.
My forgetfulness causes the house to nearly burn down.
               Somehow, I feel that, had the house gone ablaze and I became its victim, the amount of pain endured would have been the same as I endure every single day…from him. 
               It is now 7:10 p.m. and it is only be beginning.


            Mother throws away her favourite perfume.
            I ask her, “If you don’t want it, then give it to me.”
            “Then, I’d have to smell it,” she replies. “Perfume is just one of the many scents of life that trigger our memory. The most beautiful scent can have the foulest memory attached to it. I cannot count the number of times I’ve worn that perfume,” she points to the ornate bottle, buried beneath a pile of trash, “I’ve either lost money or had a terrible squabble with a neighbour. Every time I smell it, I’m reminded of that.”
            In my British home, I inhale the aroma of spices, brewing within the teapot and bringing to my senses the memory of the day Jagirdar first made me laugh. I inhale the scent, thinking back to the first few days of our marriage, when he’d leave for work and I, feeling alone, made more tea.
Within an instant, those feelings are lost in the haze of the rising steam. My face drops and I force myself away from the stove. I wonder why the aroma is suddenly unbearable to my senses.
            As I prepare the tea cup, I analyze why I’m feeling miserable. Could it be that the smell of the tea reminds me of the day I decided to get married and leave my parents and my home in Bangladesh, behind?
            Pouring the tea into the cup, accompanied by a side of meat samosas and buttered crumpets, I present them, as evening snacks, to my husband. His eyes seem hinged to the monitor of his laptop.
            “Have your tea while it’s hot,” I muster up in my sweetest tone.
            As if spasmodically, he accepts the tea only for a second before
pitching it against my chest.
            “I don’t want your tea!”
            As the hot tea scolds my chest, I wonder why he’s acting strange as I didn’t smell any alcohol on his breath today. Instinctively, I want to run to the bathroom and pour a cold shower down my chest. But, I can’t.
            He forces his eyes away from the laptop, slams it shut and springs up from his chair. By firmly locking his fingers around my right wrist, he forbids me from leaving the bedroom until he finishes his tirade.
            “You’ve been using my laptop when I specifically told you not to.”
            “How did you…?”
            “I scanned my internet history and saw searches for things I wouldn’t normally search for.”
            Trying to ignore the excruciating pain of his claws in my veins, I reply, “I was too tired to walk to the library today, just to use their computer.”
“And why do you need to use a computer?”
“I get bored of watching TV all day.” Furiously shaking my head, I blurt, “I won’t use your laptop again, I promise.”
            “You always break your promises.”
I feel faint, but I welcome it. Maybe then, I won’t feel my wrist throbbing or my chest burning.  
Releasing his grip, he says, “Clean this mess up.” He refers to the brown spots, like a still sepia-toned image of fireworks, on the wall behind me. He returns to the laptop.
             I’m free to clean myself up and return to wipe the wall with a washcloth. My hand tremors, but I clean as quickly as possible. I want to avoid another confrontation.
             “I see you’re searching for words like ‘love,’ ‘lovemaking,’ and ‘marriage advice.’” His voice darkens near the end.
The tremors in my hand abruptly stop. I regret not deleting the history. I wonder if it makes a difference whether I explain myself or not…he will always decide that I’m worthy of punishment. I continue scrubbing the wall.
               He violently grabs my right wrist again, pulls me toward him and says, “What did you learn today? Answer me.”
               “Nothing that I didn’t know already,” I try not to sound like a wise-ass, but I know I fail as soon as he slaps me across my right cheek.
                The night before I got married, my mother told me that love is agonizing, but the aches subside after a few days. What she must have meant is that love-making is momentarily painful. She also told me that marriage is compromise, which I confirmed Online, today. So, I tolerate Jagirdar’s tantrums as I have been.
                I notice he’s submerging his eyes deeply into mine as if he wants to extract ‘hate’ out of me…hate for him, that is. I hate what he does to me, but I could never hate him. He knows it too and it infuriates him. I ask myself four questions, of which only three, I can answer:
                Do I love him? I don’t understand the term ‘love’… yet.
                Do I make love to him? I never get the chance; he beats me to it.
                Are we in a marriage? We have a contract.
                Why can’t I any longer bear the smell of cloves, cumin seeds, and cinnamon brewing in tea? I have no idea.


               Two dozen roses.
Behind them is neighbour, Pari, a tall, adolescent girl in Bohemian fashion. She rarely visits and now she brings me flowers? I wonder.
               “The delivery man left these at our doorstep by mistake. They’re for you,” she says in her deep and monotonous tone.
               Thank God Jagirdar isn’t home to witness this.
               Then, Pari reveals, “It’s an apology, from your husband.”
               I’m slightly relieved, but feel violated. “You checked the card?”
               “I had to. How else would I know who the bouquet was for!”
               Just as an echo only reaches the ear after it has been first spoken, I realize what Pari just said. It’s an apology. I frown. He’s turned a symbolism of love into a symbolism of pity. I invite Pari inside. While she helps herself to the kettle, I dump the flowers into a crystal vase full of water. Plop goes the sound. Pitiful plop.
               “Pari,” I pronounce in the Bengali accent Parree, before she corrects me.
               “Pari, pronounced like the French term for ‘Paris,’ the city of love.”
For some reason, I feel the name does not suit her.
                We sit in the drawing room, staring into the tabula rasa of empty roses at the centre of the coffee table.
                “He doesn’t deserve you,” she blurts out. “I’ve grown up next-door to Mr. Jagirdar. My family and I know him to be a…rough character.”
                I want to say, ‘Rough is an understatement,’ but I refrain, simply
nodding in agreement. After all, my relationship is nobody’s business, but my
               “We hear it every night.” By ‘it,’ she must be referring to his tantrums.  “Terraced walls,” she smirks, “we can have a conversation right through them, no need for a telephone.”
               Upon hearing this revelation, should I be embarrassed? I wonder.
               “I like to see photo albums," she says. 
I go upstairs and grab the only two I own, one of my wedding and the other of my childhood.
                Beginning in chronological order, she scrutinizes the last image in my childhood album, which portrays my scrawny body, posing by a lake, with my braided hair slithering down from my shoulder to my waist. I’m smiling.
                “Is this you?” she asks.
                “Of course. It’s right before my wedding. It’s only been about a year since.” How could she not recognize me?
                 She compares the photograph from me, at present. As if her vision is blurry, she squints her eyes at the photograph. She then leads me to the large mirror in the corridor. Handing me the photograph, she practically demands that I compare the image to my 'life-size' reflection. 
                 How could she recognize me when I can no longer recognize myself? With fingers as dry as sand, nails chipped, long brown lines running through them, and my eyes supported by large dark cushions beneath them...I look aged.
                 “It’s a beautiful day outside,” Pari mindlessly says. “Ride with me.”
Sensing my reluctance, she repeats more convincingly, “Ride with me." Finally, she attempts to sound cheerful and comforting, “It’s okay. I have a
license and no police points. Ride with me." 
                 Appreciating the effort, I follow her to her Ford.
                 She passes the High Street, my comfort corner, where I do my grocery-shopping. We pass the motorway and stop in front of Café L’Amore. Outside and through the windows, the seating arrangement appears to be right out of a French painting, tinseled legs on the table and chairs, swirled up at the edges. Each table is adorned at the centre by a petite pot of live daisy.
                  As I take off my seat belt and am about to exit the car, I feel a firm grip on my shoulder. Pari beckons me to stay inside and look out of the car window. Outside of the café, there is a tall slender woman in business attire and black pencil-heeled shoes. She embraces her lover, a tall man with sleek black hair. Once the woman moves aside and locks her hand with the man’s, I see more clearly who her lover is…my husband! Jagirdar has been having an affair and I have a feeling that Pari knew about it.
                  My heart is a wildfire as like a favourite movie scene that one would replay, I loop the term, ‘I hate Pari’ in my head. I hate Pari. By the tenth attempt to engrave that sentence within myself, I fail. I know…I know I should not hate Pari.
                  She then hands me a business card. “I help women like you, who suffer from domestic violence.”
                   Noticing my puzzled expression, she elaborates, “Domestic violence is when someone close to you like a family member or husband is hurting you.”
                  I still do not understand her ‘business’ because my relationship is not her business.
                  Then, Pari says something that hits me harder than I have ever been
hit, even  by Jagirdar. “Your relationship with Mr. Jagirdar is not a normal
marital relationship; it is not how a normal marriage should be.”
                 Her emphasis on the term ‘normal’ grips my tongue, mute.
                 “I can help you, if you let me.”
                 “I’m not leaving him.”
                 “That’s something that you can decide for yourself, later. The first step is to admit that he is wrong to hit you.”
                 Wrong. Not normal. I contemplate on the terms.
                 Here I am, thinking that marriage is compromise and by compromise, it means that I should accept my husband, flaws and all…right? Wrong.
                 Marriage involves physical intimacy, but it’s been one year and still, physically unbearable. Mother’s known to exaggerate, but not to lie, especially to me.
                I remember seeing my mother and father sharing laughs many times. Yet, the only time I shared a laugh with Jagirdar was probably the day I first made him tea. After that, I do not remember how genuine our laughs became.
                It’s all too much. I burst into tears like a continuous fountain. If only…he hated my tea. If only…he hated my salty tea!
               “It’s okay,” Pari whispers, rubbing my shoulders. “I understand.”
She understands? She’s unmarried, or is she?
               “Are you married?” I sniff, choke, and blubber.
               “No,” she replies. “But I know that neither wisdom nor experience has anything to do with age or marital status. We each have our own pace. I want to help you and you shouldn’t feel ashamed to accept it.”
               I do not know what to expect. A blunt, young woman showed up at my doorstep today. I boldly followed her, beyond my normal boundaries. She has no idea, but I do, of the fact that I had already accepted her help, almost an hour ago.

Thursday, 6 September 2012


I made a vlog for you; unfortunately, I am unable to upload it. It's okay; I can still write about 'civic oration' or public speaking. 

On Wednesday night, Michelle Obama's speech with regards to President Obama's nomination for the presidential elections, was tear-jerking. I felt overwhelmed by her overall presentation, just as the audience members were. She spoke persuasively about how she met her husband, loved him to this day and watched him grow into his true self via the presidency. She and her husband had a lot in common, coming from financially-deprived backgrounds; she spoke about motherhood and having to make sure the limelight of the presidency did not change her, her husband or her children. Many can relate.

I am not here to talk about the elections or politics; rather, to discuss the importance and technique of public speaking. Since I was 12-years-old, I entered speech competitions, poetry-reading contests, and acted for National History Day. I remember the importance my teachers placed on public-speaking and presentation. It helped as the career world, often does require one to do public presentations. 

copyright ABC NEWS


I remember having to memorize 10 minutes word of my presentations. If not memorized, then eye-contact is key. The audience needs to know that you are speaking to THEM about topics that THEY care about. They need to know that they matter.


Talk about your personal experiences; people can relate. For example, the First Lady spoke about her experiences as daughter, wife, mother and First Lady. 


When we type, italicized words/phrases means emphasis. But, when we speak, emphasis is known through our tone of voice; how much 'umph' we place on a word or phrase is a call for attention: 'hey, listen to this' is what you're saying via emphasis.


Michelle Obama raised her eyebrows, wrinkled them with concern, smiled and in the end, cried, unwavering from her speech. Facial expressions are not only a form of emphasis on words, but also entertaining. She also gracefully gestures with her hands, letting them hover and dance around as she speaks, allowing the audience member's eyes to follow her at all times and keep busy. If someone is to speak robotically, not moving an inch, speaking in monotone, looking at the wall behind the audience, it is very difficult to hold onto the listeners' attentions. They get bored easily. Ex-President Bill Clinton spoke last night, using the Apprentice's 'You're Fired' finger. It was entertaining and people listened.


Last, but not least, we all get nervous before throwing ourselves onto the stage and speaking to a large number of people. You might have your own personal technique to overcoming this fear. The President, himself, must get nervous before going up on-stage; it's human nature, but I remember as soon as I went on stage and said my first sentence, I felt immediately at ease. I reminded myself that 'nobody in the audience will know if you've made a mistake, but YOU.' It is your speech and as long as you do not stutter and replace your forgotten words with similar ones that still give the audience a gist of the topic-at-hand, everything will be okay. Maintain a passion for what you are speaking about. Believe in your own words and the world will believe in you.


Watch famous leaders' speeches. Read your speech over and over again. 
TEACHER, take every opportunity in your classroom to ask your students to read-out-loud, to do group or individual performances, or to debate. 
STUDENTS, believe me when I say this will help you in the future when you are in the career world. Public speaking teaches communication and leadership skills. 

Saturday, 11 August 2012


Finally, a novel that touches on the topic of marriage from a male perspective and a Muslim one, at that!

The protagonist of 'The Reluctant Mullah' by Sagheer Afzal is Musa, a 'holy man' or mullah. Musa battles the conventions of his Pakistani Muslim background, while growing up in British society.

Having caused mischief at his madrasah, he gets kicked out. His parents believe that the only way he will mature is through marriage. His grandfather or 'Dadaji' arranges a marriage for him back home, but Musa is dead set against it. He is given one month to find his own bride or suffer the consequences.

Now, how to find that 'one' in just a month? With the help of his employer, two friends, his brother and his sister, Musa learns how to look the look, walk the walk, and talk the talk. But, how to change the fact that he's a dreamer? He believes that he can make reality meet with the dreamworld, whereby he can marry his ideal woman. And thus, like the dating game, one by one, he meets his candidates.

This is not a chauvinistic novel. Although from a male perspective, Sagheer also touches on issues that Muslim women, particularly Asian women, face on a daily basis, including the topics of drugs, sex, alcohol or just having to explain the nikab/hijab. The female characters in 'The Reluctant Mullah' are, for the most part, outspoken...not afraid to speak their minds or give you a piece of their minds!

Good vs. evil in the Islamic sense is a major theme and propellant of the novel. And it appears that this question of morality is often answered from the very person that Musa rebelled against in the first place: his Dadaji. Although what Dadaji says might seem jibberish, the underlying messages are as clear as glass. He is the epitome of wisdom.

Little does Musa know that joining his local Islamic Centre as a leader of group discussions on Islamic topics will change his outlook on life, completely.

Filled with the roller coaster of emotions, this novel will have you either tearfully laughing or tearfully crying. It's filled with hilarity and sorrow. It is light-hearted, yet thought-provoking. Sagheer is an intellectual author.

I have a request for Mr. Sagheer Afzal: if you ever decide to turn your novel into a script, please make me your screenwriter!

Friday, 1 June 2012


R. Historical novel-writing takes a great deal of research and diligence, even more-so than normal fiction-writing. How long did it take to get to this point of your career?

S. I started writing in 2004. I self-published my first book, 'Ibrahim - Where in the Spectrum Does He Belong?' in 2005 and it was an autobiographical account of my son who grew up with autism. I spent a year researching information on Lascars and spent a lot of time reading all sorts of book. This helped me develop my style of writing. I wrote Lascar in about a year. Although at the time, I thought that it was fully complete, I rewrote the novel about three times. So I think it took another three years to completely finish my novel and finally stop the rewrites! I had to end it at some point! It took time to get it right and it was a learning process all the way.

R. I remember studying Contemporary Indian History and the Mughal Empire during my University career. What interested you in the topic of Indian history?

S. One of my ancestors on my father’s side was a Lascar. Stories were passed down orally through generations.  The family history aspect of it inspired me to write the novel. I have always been interested in 19th-century history, particularly Indian history.  I've always been fascinated with Victorian history since I was at primary school. 

R. How did you form the concept of your novel?

S. I wanted to write a historical novel in the Victorian era, so i did just that. Lascar is an epic story and I wanted to include everything in one novel; hardship, poverty, murder, loss, prejudice, injustice, love and happiness and used these to form the novel. The first part of the novel is set in Sylhet, Eastern India (now Bangladesh), and Victorian England. It wasn't an easy novel to write.

R. Who is/are your favourite author(s)?

S. That's a difficult one!  I read all sorts of books. I love Inbali Iserles and Sangeeta Bhargava.

R. What are you hoping that your readers take from your novel, what is the heart of its morale?

S. I wanted to write the novel in a fresh contemporary way for a new generation of a modern audience. The history of Lascars has been largely forgotten in history and I wanted to revive the rich and unique history. I wanted this novel to highlight the plight of Lascars. They were instrumental in the rise of the British Empire. I'm hoping people will learn about them through my novel.

Her book release in London, at the Brick Lane Bookshop, is on Thursday, 14th of June, 2012. To book, email

It's FREE :) but make sure you buy the book!

Shahida Rahman

Tuesday, 1 May 2012


Dear Mr. Real Estate Agent,

Welcome to my humble abode.

I never want to leave it, even though inevitably, some day, I will have to.

It smells of the most peculiar fragrance, a mix of sweet spices and baked goods.

The build is solid, having withstood almost every fearful climate change/weather condition.

'Almost' because no matter what seeps through, there's always, not 'almost always,' a cozy and warm ambiance intact.

The roof is in excellent condition; I feel secure. Sometimes, it's almost like it breathes, the thumps of its heart soothing to the ear.

'Ha,' I laugh.

You blink twice with a blank stare, but if you hear the alarm beeping, no worries, it's as if the house is a horse, its wary ear always perked up, beckoning for 'peace' at once...

And peace is guaranteed to be restored.

I challenge you to try, with your  utmost experience, to put a price on this house because no real estate agent has succeeded yet.

"£260,000?" you ask.

I implore you to try again.

"£400,000?" you ask.

I'm on my knees begging you to try again.

"£1 million? 1 billion?"

I shake my head.

You wave an imaginary white flag.

How could you ever put a price on the home within my mother's arms?

Sorry Mr. Real Estate Agent, but you will find no business here, even after I have grown out of it.

P.S.  I am now in my mother's shoes and my little Amina reminds me every day how it once must have felt like to be in my mother's arms. Try hammering a 'For Sale' sign into them...I dare you.

My mum, me and my daughter, Amina Amelia Chowdhury

Friday, 13 April 2012

Secrets of a Henna Girl: My Review

One day, 16-year-old Zeba Khan, the fictitious protagonist of 'Secrets of a Henna Girl' is awaiting her GCSE results and hanging out with her best friend, Susan. Not long after that, she finds herself in Pakistan, being fitted for her traditional red bridal dress as she is expected to marry her 24-year-old cousin and army officer, Asif.


Marrying her cousin?

Back-in-the-day, Asian culture was to marry young and often within kinship so as to maintain the existing family class/status/wealth. However, in modern times, especially for those who can relate to Zeba's British/Western-Asian character, it is no longer the norm.

So, what does Zeba do? As expected of a 'loose' Western-Asian character, she stands up against the forced arrangement. Her father claims that he must either keep his word to his elder brother (Asif's father) or ruin his 'honour,' a repetitive/significant term throughout the novel.
And Zeba's mother is like a sheep, blindly following the the canine, her husband...Zeba's father.

Where/how can a girl, held hostage in her parents' homeland, her passport in the hands of her father, her mother who is taken so in by village customs of following the 'male order' that she is nonchalant about her daughter's unhappiness, find freedom?

Ironically, Zeba's grandmother or nannyma (her mother's mum) is on her side. I say 'ironically' because as an elderly woman, who should have been programmed since birth to follow the patriarchal laws of her village, is against the whole system.

How much weight does nannyma's word have in the village? Can she convince Zeba's parents and Asif's parents that this marriage is well...wrong? Or, will she need to call in reinforcements? And...where can nannyma call in reinforcements from when Zeba, a British citizen, is finding it difficult to do so?

Will Zeba ever find her freedom?

Endless questions for the youth to answer, while reading Sufiya Ahmed's YA novel.

Arranged marriage is, according to Sufiya Ahmed (clearly outlined in her novel), when two people are introduced to each other trough traditional methods, and enter the marriage that willingly. She even begins her novel with the quote, 'Obtain the virgin's consent before you marry her' by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Add the term 'forced' to 'arranged marriage' and one might as well add the term 'un' to the word 'willingly.' That is precisely the plot of 'Secrets of a Henna Girl.'

The beginning of the novel is gripping and any Asian teenager, growing up in the West, can instantly relate to Zeba's character. Identity crisis, an attempt to merge into the Western culture while maintaining tradition, is exactly an issue all too familiar among the Asian youth today. Any second-year student or adult will enjoy the fun, straightforward and fast read.

Once I started, I could not put the book down. For those intrigued by Asian culture and the concept of forced arranged marriage, this novel is great for you.

Secondary school English teachers should consider adding 'Secrets of a Henna Girl' to their curriculum.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

A perfume. You wear it during a time that becomes memorable to you, whether in a foul or sweet way. Your sense of smell automatically attaches that particular scent to that memory.

If that memory was good, then you'll wear the aroma of perfume, constantly wanting to lose yourself in reminiscence. If, however, that memory was bad, then the aroma turns pungent, odorous, on the edge of or right on the verge of the intolerance, to your nose. You, in turn, toss it or give it away.

Such is the miraculous power of the human senses!

Imagine being able to taste a particular food and automatically, sense the feeling of the cook, whose hands molded only to satisfy your cravings.

If the cook was angry at the time of cooking, you taste the anger in his/her creation; if the cook was rushing, you taste the haste in the food.

That is exactly the psychic ability, so intriguing, but annoying to the protagonist, Rose, of Aimee Bender's fourth novel, a work of YA Fiction, 'The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.'

An innovative work of fiction, 'The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake' takes the reader on a young girl's quest to decipher her mother's feelings, which she tastes everyday in her mother's cooking.

It all begins with Rose, eating her mother's lemon cake. She tasted an ambiguous sadness in the cake. Despite her mother's assurance that there is nothing wrong with her...that she is happy, Rose cannot avoid the hollowness in her mother's eyes. She decides to no longer comment on her mother's cooking/ simply swallow down her mother's feelings and attempt to ignore the horrible taste of them. Even more, Rose tries to avoid eating her mother's meals, at times.

Why is her mother so sad? Can Rose ever scrape the taste of any cook's (not just her mother's) emotions off her tongue?

Most of all, this beautifully-written, full of extraordinary metaphors, work of YA fiction describes a protagonist's connection to her family or the lack thereof. Rose's new-found psychic ability encourages her to not only try to understand her mother, but to also be more open with her father and break through her child-prodigy-of-a-brother's sternness.

'The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake' is a quirky and entertaining read and rightfully-so as it is brilliantly-written.

Aimee Bender

Monday, 5 March 2012

Interview with Asad Shan on Screenwriting

I remember meeting up with Asad Shan. He's a really down-to-earth guy with a plethora of knowledge on film-making and screenwriting. His advice is so valuable and I think any aspiring screenwriter can benefit from his wisdom and experience.

Asad Shan's profile is extensive. He is founder of Iconic Productions, which encourages new talent in the film world, host of ZING’s Brits' Bollywood, face of Zee Network and most recently, Screenwriter/Director/Actor (yes, all three) on '7:Welcome to London' an Iconic Production.

R: How do you do it all? I mean, the role of screenwriter, director and actor certainly do fall harmoniously within the world of movie-making, but for you to have all three of these roles together for ONE film! How were you able to distinguish between these roles?

Actually, there were four roles as I also co-wrote the script... nothing like a control freak –jokes apart I think being a methodical person I was able to separate all four roles – once the story had been written the producer side of me made sure the money was raised and budgeted for. I think the hardest was the Director role and the actor role because being a perfectionist, the director in me always found the right balance in the actor, where actors can be greedy. I believe the UK Film industry and UK Asians are supremely talented and we have a big market here; they just need to work with the right team and well … you will see the results.

R: You have worked very hard on this film and it seems like you had a fantastic crew! What inspired you to come up with a story like '7: Welcome to London?'

A: The story of '7 Welcome to London' is about all of us. The people around me inspired this film. I knew that one should always feel connected to the emotions around one's self and that’s what the story of '7 Welcome to London' is all about. It will connect with
your emotions and once you leave the cinema, I promise you that you will be talking about it for a long time.

R: What do you hope that the viewers will take away from this film, to release 9th of March?

A: Basically if you want a guaranteed entertainer that is a super fast-paced romantic thriller slick British thriller, (Read Guy Ritchie) yet retains the Desi feel (Read Karan Johar) then '7 Welcome to London' fits the bill. It is a must-see for the whole family.

R: Was it difficult to choose the cast?

A: We were blessed to have a fantastic bunch of actors in our film. Aliakbar Campwala is from Mumbai and plays the Rajinikanth loving Goldie. Tim Hibberd is an established theatre actor and he will blow your mind away with his performance as ACE. You have Rob Thorne (Sky Sports Betfair), Musa Ahmet (The Infidel) and loads more talented individuals. My beautiful leading lady is Sabeeka Imam who is UK’s number one Asian female model and was featured in most of the biggest fashion campaigns. Chris Dickens is a legend, one of my favourite editors in the world. He edited films like 'Hot Fuzz,' 'Shaun of the Dead' and 'Slumdog Millionaire' for which he won an Oscar. Having him on board as a consultant producer and supervising editor was my ace card and I knew I was in safe (read Oscar) hands.

R: What genre/subgenre would you place this film in (ie. Action, Romance, Suspense....) and why?

A: It's everything and more – see... '7:...' has something for everyone in the family, action and suspense for the boys, and a thrilling romance for the girls.
R: Could you describe the feeling of watching your words come-to-life on screen?

A: Well, let's put it this way.... I had a box of tissues close-by. I went through a range of emotions whilst watching the film. There was a certain glow within and a real sense of achievement, but I guess the most important feeling of pride came when I saw my mum's face when she saw the first rough cut.

R:What inspirational and technical (pitching producers/agents) advice do you have for aspiring screenwriters?

A: Screenwriters need to have a two-minute pitch ready where they can verbally sell their script alongside a final draft copy ready. Make sure you register your film and story. Be confident and be ready to be criticised as you are the one who went up to them so do not take it personally. More importantly, if you know you have a good film, then make sure its in good hands.

Friday, 2 March 2012



The technicalities of poetry is something we often don't consider when we wish to pour our hearts out into varying lines, built up to stanzas, which are broken up for pause or dramatic effects, containing the intricacies of punctuation and grammar.

'Punctuation and grammar?' you ask. 'Poetry comes from the heart,' you say.

Yes, poetry does come from the heart; it is the revelation of your most inner-self to the world. It is the written word that does not represent you, but simply is you.

I remember taking a creative writing course at University with Dr. Rachel Wetzsteon who, unfortunately, is no more.... She was a lovely teacher, who taught me invigorating secrets of how to write poetry. Every secret revealed was never really a 'secret,' it was simply my lack of knowledge thereof, which she provided to me.

Most importantly, she is the person who taught me that the structure of a poem, the choice of punctuation of a poem has a purpose. Poetry is not the random choice of mere words that splatter onto the paper to reveal your self. Rather, the way you break up your stanzas, the number of lines you choose to write, the way you choose to write them...the overall technicalities of the poem must make sense...make sense...every move has a purpose.

Here is just one poem (published in Celebration of Young Poets) I submitted as part of my final paper (collection) for her class:

Lavender Scarf

Before the gloom of the night,
Seeking exploration,
The lavender scarf slips off my neck.
In complete awe of the world,
It soars with the breeze.

As the sea twists into a grayish mist,
Maroon brick houses turn dark caramel,
and oak leaves are tinged teal,
The lavender scarf seeks freedom,
As I desperately chase after it.

The scarf wanders above cities and towns,
It skulks through the rotting slums,
It glides over the velvet countryside,
Feels the thrill of infinite curiosity,
And smells the essence of nature.

Soaring lavender, then purple,
Purple, then blueberry,
Blueberry, then ebony,
The lavender scarf re-wraps around my neck,
Where the journey ends.

Dr. Rachel Wetzsteon attended my wedding on 2nd August, 2008 and gifted my husband and me with one of her manuscripts, '282 Time Pieces.' She was always such a cheerful soul. Her wedding note to us was 'Hip-hip and hooray to you on this resplendent very happy day!-All best wishes, Rachel Wetzsteon.' Here are a few of my favourite lines I've cherry-picked for you, from her book:

Dr. Rachel Wetzsteon, my Creative Writing Teacher at University

'Cafe Time

How long have I been
sitting here? Some equation
of cup and napkin...'

'Dorian Gray Time

His bright eyes twinkle:
with each malicious frown he's
got one less wrinkle'

'Lovers' Time

Till you come, such is
my fate: to watch each minute
ooze by on crutches.'

'Mom Time

It's a minute past
midnight; you're grounded for as
long as hormones last.'

'Eden Time

They spent every day,
blissfully ignorant, in
amorous delay.'

'Hamlet Time

"Out of joint" 's too mild:
courtier, soldier, scholar
trembles like a child.'

'Monet Time

Light at great speed will
dapple then flee the facade
of a cathedral.'

When spilling your heart onto paper, consider poet-ics.