Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain is one of those writers who touched the deepest recesses of my heart with her poetic and empowering writing. While Sultana’s dream is a story of a feminist utopia where women, with the help of science and technology, win wars and preside over the nation, Padmarag is a realistic version of it.
In Sultana’s dream, men are kept in seclusion instead of women, under a regime called Mardana. When Sister Sara asks Sultana why women in her world allow themselves to be shut up in seclusion, Sultana responds by saying “because it cannot be helped as they are stronger than women.” To this, Sister Sara says – “A lion is stronger than a man, but it does not enable him to dominate the human race.”
While I loved Sultana’s dream, I felt more connected and empowered by reading Padmarag. The strength of those women in Tarini Bhawan inspired me to no limits. Their arguments against patriarchy were so resolute and filled with such satire and intellect. I absolutely loved the ending. It reaffirmed my faith in feminism. I absolutely loved Siddhika’s characterisation. She was just so bold, selfless and strong that no man can ever measure up to her. As she says in one of the instances – “Are we women puppets that men can reject us at will and take us back again when it suits them to do so? The era is over when men would trample on us and still have us licking their boots.”
The comments Tarini had to face and endure shows our society’s predisposition towards successful and ambitious women who strive to regain their power. The story is so ahead of its time. It talks about consent, domestic violence against women, unfair and unlawful marriage practices in Indian society, privileges men behold and dictates the stories of women who emerge from it stronger and more determined than before. Reading Padmarag must have been one of the best decisions I ever made because most literature out there speaks about white feminism and I never really got around to reading South Asian feminism with such rigor before.