Facts of Life: Reflections on Ignorance and Intelligence is the result of Rehana Shamsi’s observations, experiences, and relationship to her former society. Many of the poems bring to the forefront the emotional and psychological trauma caused by men’s traditional dominance over women in majority of South Asian households. Women’s constant struggle to overcome suppression is a major theme covered in this collection of poetry. In addition, Shamsi showcases her perspective on life in general.
Through her captivating and incisive style, she explores joys and sorrows, challenges and choices, and ignorance and intelligence.
After reading Nadeem Alsam’s excellent novel, Maps for Lost Lovers, I didn’t expect to come across something as moving, which confronted the same issues so soon. Right from the first poem, the reader will find a strong voice that tackles one of the most important issues facing society today, the repression of women and their lack of education.
Shamsi’s experiences are a strong indictment of these failures in society and her remembrances are as difficult to read as it is, not to be angry at the number of girls still subjected to arranged marriages and the horrors that can stem from such ‘deals’. These social issues seem to almost taken for the norm these days or at least less mentioned by the media for fear of upsetting the hegemony of men that still think this is still acceptable.
The book then takes a turn towards the positive. After emigrating from the suppressive Pakistan to America, thoughts of a freer life are expressed, one where Shamsi can bring forth her unrestrained reflections on her journey through life. Structured into parts titled: Awareness after Repression, Gender Disparity, Resurrection, Health, Migration, Family, Facts of Life, Old Age, Bereavement, Nine – Eleven, and Curiosity and Others, each of which will hold a strong resonance for her readers.
The Partition of India and post 9/11 sensibilities offer intriguing glimpses into the world and both bring context to what it means to have a deep-seated identity and also to be misunderstood by so many. Such pieces are juxtaposed with intimate explorations of family and bereavement, giving the book a complete feel of emotional depth and one that encompasses hope when there is so much despair in the world.
There is lots of love infused into so many of these poems, as well as an appreciation of her liberal family when growing up to the backdrop of affected lives, that rightly outrages the author. Perhaps the most important lesson of this book is that love and understanding is needed but also the strength to stand up against things that are not right and should not be tolerated. Every human should have rights and by looking the other ways we do ourselves an injustice and to others an unforgivable act of ignorance.
Thanks to Mariparna, whose review helped me source a review copy.