'Bricklane' unfolds battle of words
The novel 'Bricklane' by Monica Ali has been the subject of controversy since the novel came out and was chosen for the prestigious Booker prize. Bricklane is perhaps the most celebrated Asian place in Britain, popularly (and officially) known as Bangla town and home to thousands of Bangladeshis. The story of 'Bricklane' revoles around this famous street and Sylhetis is general.
Ali's sharp-witted tale explores the immigrant's dilemma of belonging. Nazneen, a young Bangladeshi woman, moves to London's Bangla Town (around the street of the title) in the mid-nineteen-eighties after an arranged marriage with an older man. Seen through Nazneen's eyes, England is at first utterly baffling, but over the seventeen years of the narrative (which takes us into the post-September 11th era), she gradually finds her way, bringing up two daughters and eventually starting an all-female tailoring business. Meanwhile, the more outwardly assertive characters—her comically pompous husband, her rebellious sister back in Bangladesh, and a young Muslim activist with whom Nazneen has an affair—lose their bearings in their various attempts to embrace or reject their heritage. In Ali's subtle narration, Nazneen's mixture of traditionalism and adaptability, of acceptance and restlessness, emerges as a quiet strength.....New Yorker Read this and other reviews on Amazon
Although the Sylheti community were offended at first when the book first came out, somehow it settled down later on. But the controversy has been re-ignited again when a deceision was taken to turn the controversial book into a movie. Protests were all around Bricklane to stop the filming and the Sylheti leaders were quick to express their anger over the depiction of their community in the book. From BBC......the following report
"People living and working in an area of east London are unhappy at plans to film the adaptation of Monica Ali's book, Brick Lane, in the area. They claim the book is "insulting" towards the predominately Bangladeshi community of Brick Lane, Shoreditch.
"The book is a good work of literature, but is insulting to the community...People are disgusted about the film, and while the authorities have given permission for it to be filmed here, it does not mean they have permission from the community....We will do what the community wants us to do. We are not going to leave it as it is....They have no right to do it [film] in Brick Lane" - a community leader"
More on Guardian...
Abdus Salique threatened to burn Ali's book at a rally on Sunday which is expected to be attended by hundreds of protesters. He said the rally would be peaceful, adding that he was trying to deter fringe elements - "who could become violent" - from attending. But he added: "[If] she has the right to freedom of speech, we have the right to burn books. We will do it to show our anger. We don't like Monica Ali. We are protecting our community's dignity and respect."
He continued: "It is not just filming [in Brick Lane] which is the problem. We don't want a film which degrades our community." Monchab Ali, chairman of the Greater Sylhet council, who is is helping to mobilise support for Sunday's rally, said he planned to bring a coach load of up to 100 protesters from Chester. "We are also in touch with people who are coming from Cardiff, Manchester and Birmingham," he said. George Galloway, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, said: "It is dangerous to spread alarmist rumours about the protest. People have a right to peacefully express how they feel about how they might be portrayed."
So what's all these fuss about...what is in that special book that has angered so many Sylhetis. Since I haven't read the book myself, I have to rely on the news reports for the time being. From the Guardian again...
"The campaign has echoed complaints made when the book was published in 2003, that it promulgates stereotypes of Sylhetis, who form 95% of Britain's Bangladeshi community.
Claiming that Ali has been influenced by her father, a non-Sylheti from Dhaka, campaigners cite extracts from the book in which characters mock Sylhetis as "dirty little monkeys" who are: "Uneducated. Illiterate. Close-minded.""
But tensions appear to have been stoked by rumours circulating the area's restaurants and market shops, rather than direct extracts from the book. Campaigners claim, for example, that the film production company has offered young men in the community lucrative "bribes" to work as extras.
At a meeting on Monday night, community leaders expressed horror at a scene rumoured to show a leech falling from the hair of a Bangladeshi woman into a curry pot in a Brick Lane restaurant. "What will this do to our businesses, our reputation?" said Mohammed Tahir Ali, a trustee of Shadwell Garden Mosque."
The depiction of the Sylheti community might have been too rude for a guest audience but to us who are Bangladeshis living here that closely resembles the state of Sylhetis living in Britain - like it or not ! Monical Ali, a non-Sylheti Bangladeshi herself, 'might have' played typical Western cards in potraying an Eastern society but that doesn't change the real picture. Ofcourse there are exceptions but the reality is not too comforting. Anyway, now a new battle of words has started between the infamous Islam basher Salman Rushdie and the matriarch of the women’s liberation movement, Germaine Greer, who famously burned her bra in the 1960s.
Germaine Greer defended the residents of Brick Lane saying, “Ali did not concern herself with the possibility that her plot might seem outlandish to the people of Brick Lane,” she wrote in a signed article. “As British people know little about the Bangladeshi people in their midst, their first appearance as characters in an English novel had the force of a defining caricature,” she added.
I totally agree with the above comment by Germaine Greer. As the British people don't have much idea about Bangladeshi community, they might get a false idea about Bangladeshis in general. In that case the Sylheti Bangladeshis have a valid point. But I guess the Sylheti leaders are not fighting for Bangladesh, they are fighting for British Sylhetis only ! If they cared about Bangladesh and Islam, they would have and should have done many things over the last fifty years or so.
Rushdie described Greer’s defence of the Brick Lane activists as “philistine, sanctimonious and disgraceful, but it is not unexpected”. His rancour against Greer goes back to her lack of support of his troubles during the Satanic Verses crisis.
Rushdie claimed Greer had “described me as a megalomaniac”. “Now it’s Ali’s turn to be deracinated by her,” he said.
Well, personally, I woudn't even bother what Rushdie says or not. He looks like an Ar*e-ho*l* and then talks like an Ar*e-ho*l. He has Indian orgin, the films casts only Indian actors and actresses to potray Bangladeshi characterers (surprise! surprise !), the book badly potrays (not intentioanlly perhaps) both Bangladesh and Islam. So no wonder Rushdie is so vocal about it.
It will be interesting to see what happens when the film releases in UK. Lets just wait and see.