How four women change the way we look at family bonds
The second day of Dhaka Lit Fest had an interesting selection of panels for the audience. Among those, one titled ‘Storytelling: The Mystery of Inheritance’ had the panelists delve into lessons passed down through family traditions, and the expectations we foster about our parents, and how these are often unrealistic.
The panel was moderated by Sabrina Fatma Ahmad, Features Editor, Dhaka Tribune. The three panelists were Tishani Doshi, Srabonti Narmeen Ali and Jan Blake -- all of whom are authors, writing about empowering and empowered women.
Sabrina opened the conversation with the question: “What role does silence play in your work?” All three panelists discussed the suppression, or subtle silencing, that they’ve witnessed or suffered throughout their lives, and how they relate these experiences to the stories they want to tell.
Blake shared her experiences with secrets being a large part of her life, growing up. She talked about how we don’t really know our parents all that well, unless we try to find out. There are stories from their lives that they never share, and thus an integral part of their identities stay hidden from us. She mentioned discovering her two secret sisters, and being fascinated rather than angry about this discovery; because she was able to see her parents as individuals, and not limiting who they are to just parents. Thus, she was able to turn the silence into a celebration.
Doshi also mentioned stumbling upon love letters between her parents, and seeing, for the first time, who they were on their own before she was even thought of. It was a revelation to her, that her parents had had whole, fascinating lives before her, which is a fact we almost always choose to forget.
Srabonti talked about creating contained characters for her book, Hope in Technicolor, and how her up-bringing played a part in that. Being a very emotional person, she grew up being ashamed of her emotions; this was an aspect she integrated into her story. “There are roles that are placed on us,” she said, “and I feel that since we’re all so different, it’s difficult for someone to be a set way all the time.”
Sabrina commenced the discussion on a particularly controversial opinion, saying how talking about the mistakes parents make is the ultimate taboo. She mentioned how, traditionally, elders in a family may try to portray themselves a certain way. “No one’s actually like those cookie-cutter characters that they tell us we should be like,” she said.
To this, Doshi opined that exploring the real, humane aspects in relationships and accepting them are part of developing newer family structures to go along with the old ones, as a way to evolve. Blake commented on humans being guilty of wanting parents to live up to our expectations of them, while we simultaneously demand the freedom and space from them to be ourselves.
Near the end of the session, the floor was opened up to the audience to ask questions. Most of the audience took this opportunity to seek advice on how to deal with parents rather than the authors’ books. One such question was focused on where to draw the line between compassion for parents and holding them accountable for their actions. Blake’s response to this was met with roaring applause, and left the attendants of the session with much to think about. She said that parents don’t owe us anything, and to expect so is unreasonable. “As far as I’m concerned,” she added “they did the best they could, given the circumstances. And whatever flaws they have, as human beings, they have a right to them.”