I have to declare with sheer embarrassment that my ignorant self was unaware of this feisty lady, an epitome of courage, Sushmita Banerjee. However, I have heard about her celebrated book,Â A Kabuliwala’s Bengali wife, which went on to become a stage adaptation and later into a film entitled “Escape from Taliban”.
Her death shook the world generating fervor across border and beyond. Newspapers documenting the trajectory of her life and TV channels lapping the ‘breaking news’ opportunity that became the topical issue at panel discussions as well as over the regular morning cuppa. Amidst comments from her well-wishers, both real and fictive, there is one comment that is unanimous, that she shouldn’t have gone back to Kabul. This statement may appear like a corollary in response to her tragic demise but deep down, it reveals our patriarchal make-up, religious discourse and the notion of the ‘other’, in this case, the cross-border people of Afghanistan.
Sushmita Bandophyaya dared to flout the religious dictate and married a man who she thought would be suitable as her partner. Secondly, she chose to embrace the Taliban-ridden Afghanistan as her post-marital residence knowing fully well about the dangers that would loom large over her life. One needs to traverse beyond looking at her decision as a mere wifely duty. Border is a political and geographical delineation to demarcate nations. She could not see herself bowing to the glare of borders and making it part of her mental make-up, the border that pitch one against the other forging the eternal divide of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Thirdly, she empathized with the fellow women of Afghanistan who have been reduced to objects encountering all forms of humiliation as a part of their regular struggle to live as women. She felt anguished by the pathos of women and put her insecurity to rest in order to assist those women to rise above misery.
She refused to affirm to the engendered components enmeshed in the social fabric across time and space. It is on this point that her return to Afghanistan becomes significant. Whenever we have stumbled upon the issue of security of women, our premonitions regarding what she should have done to avoid the circumstance have surfaced. Similarly, in this context it is no exception. Confining women within the domestic realm and drawing an invisible but overt laksman-rekha has been the recipe for ages. Whether it is Sita from Ramayana or Scarlett O’ Hara from Gone with the Wind, it is a presumed notion that crossing the proscribed territory seals the fate of a woman’s imminent destruction.
The world, at large, felt it was an imprudent decision to return to the place that she had evaded from the clutch of death. But is death about the physical departure from the notion of existence or termination of breathing or cardiac failure defined in the medical discourse? or is it the death of the soul? Can we define what death is? One is alive according to the medical discourse yet one might feel dead from within? Or what about the saying that a coward dies every day but a brave dies once? These dialectics and connotations conferred upon the understanding of death demand our engaged reflection. With this note, I would like to conclude that she is very much alive in each of us who have bent the norms and pushed the ‘cultural’ envelope!