Posts Tagged ‘I Am Yours’

I discovered Reema Zaman’s memoir, ‘I Am Yours‘, recently and I was excited to read it.

In the book, Reema Zaman tells the story of her life, by narrating it to her imaginary friend from childhood. She describes how her parents got married, how her mother was a talented, literary person before she got married while still a student, about her own birth, about how her father first moved to Hawaii and then to Thailand on work, taking his family with him, how Reema Zaman grew up there as a child and then as a pre-teen and then as a teen, how she moved to America for college, how she tried becoming an actress and an artist, how she fell in love and got married and what happened after that and how she ended up writing this book. During the course of this journey Zaman also describes her relationship with her parents and her siblings, the relationship between her parents, how she was bullied in school and how the people who bullied her found her attractive and tried to get close to her when she became a teenager, how her teachers inspired her, how one of her best friends assaulted her, how hard it was to be an aspiring actress when work was hard to come by, how children showed her the power of love.

I found many things fascinating in the book. For example, the description of her Bangladeshi family was quite interesting – how her mother made all the sacrifices but was mostly treated badly by her father, and how when she complained sometimes, he told her that she can leave the house if didn’t like it there. This is the typical, cruel line that patriarchal husbands, especially of the South Asian kind, tell their wives, to hurt them, and to make them realize on which side the power lay in the household. I have heard this line spoken so many times and it was interesting to see it described in this book too. Zaman’s mother threatens to leave her husband many times, but is not able to, because of the stigma attached to it. But at some point when she does it – the unthinkable, in Bangladeshi culture – we cheer for her. And when she flowers as a human being after she frees herself from the clutches of the patriarchy and finds happiness and joy and love, we all delight in it. There is, of course, a popular opinion, that if one moves out of South Asia (or a similar kind of region) and migrates to the West, life is hunky-dory and all dreams come true. Zaman contrasts this popular opinion with her own life. She falls in love and gets married to an American and after the initial honeymoon is over, we discover that her new husband inflicts pain on her in different ways, different from the way her father inflicts on her mother, but it is pain nevertheless. It just shows that patriarchy is alive everywhere, and if there is a kind of inequality among two partners and the power is on the man’s side, he might use that situation and inflict pain on his wife. There is a scene towards the ending of a movie called ‘Snake Eyes‘. A young woman and a cop expose corruption in a deal between an arms manufacturer and the Navy. The young woman then tells the cop that everything is going to change for the better. To which, our cop, who is a wise man, replies – “You know, they say back years ago… pirates put phoney lighthouses right out by those big rocks, right out there. Ships would set a course by the lights, crash on the rocks, then everybody’d go out and rob ’em blind. Only one thing’s changed since then – Iights are brighter.” I remembered this when I read the book. Marriages sometimes seem to be similar to this. It doesn’t matter which country one belongs to, where one lives in, the lights might be brighter, but the marriage is the same. It is the same age-old thing with the patriarchy inflicting pain and undermining a woman who is married. I don’t know why some married people continue to inflict pain on each other when a better option is available. What can be gained by inflicting pain? Atleast the pirates are getting some loot. What is the purpose of inflicting pain, especially the kind husbands inflict on wives? What can be gained from this? It never ceases to amaze me and puzzle me and anger me. Reema Zaman’s book offers a very perceptive commentary on the state of the marriage by exploring marriages of different kinds. To balance things out, she also depicts a happy marriage, when her mother falls in love and marries again and her new husband is gentle and kind and loving, and how Zaman and her siblings fall in love with him – it is so beautiful to read. When Reema Zaman tells her new stepdad during Christmas – “For my present, may I call you ‘Dad’?” – her new dad cries and so do we.

Another thing I loved about the book is the narrator’s voice – how it is a child’s voice initially, and how it gets transformed into a pre-teen’s voice, a teenager’s voice and then a young woman’s voice. It is beautiful to see this transformation across the book. Two of my favourite passages are narrated by the child, Reema Zaman, and they go like this :

“I am 3. I know some things, but I don’t know many. I know crayons don’t taste like their names. A name is a word, and a word is different from a promise. I know I don’t like loud. At home it is happy and quiet and then loud. Loud makes my head hurt. It is happy, quiet, loud, and then quiet again. Sometimes it is so quiet, it is loud. That hurts too.”

“Momma is crying again. She is trying to hide, but I am too good at seeing. I am small so I can see from everywhere. There are many places to hug her because I always fit. There are many ways to love Momma. Hugs, drawings, staying asleep until 7 a.m. and going to bed at 7 p.m. There are many ways to love me because I still need help with things like tying shoelaces and making the slanted leg on the letter R. Momma takes care of all that to let me know she sees me. I ask Momma who God is. She says, “The one who made all things and takes care of all of us.” This makes me laugh. I don’t know why Momma has two names. God and her real name, Momma. How silly.”

Reema Zaman’s prose is beautiful, soft, gentle, lyrical. Though the book deals with some heavy themes, the prose and tone are gentle and serene, and they soften the blow, and they calm the heart.

One more fascinating about the book is that Reema Zaman follows ‘The Transporter’s’ Rule #2 – “No Names”. None of the characters who appear in the book have names – or rather the author doesn’t reveal their names. This is another minimalistic way of writing, like Cormac McCarthy not using punctuation marks. It is really interesting because we may not really notice this while reading the book, and even if we do, it doesn’t really bother us. Though sometimes we wonder who Reema Zaman’s father’s cousin was, who was the Bangladeshi Prime Minister, and who was the tennis legend whose kids Reema Zaman babysat. It just shows that characters don’t need to have names in a story and people don’t need to have names in a memoir, and we can still understand the story, differentiate between the characters, and appreciate the book. It is a fascinating thing to ponder about.

Towards the end of the book, Zaman depicts the power of love through the eyes of children, and it is so beautiful to read. There is one passage, which made me smile. It goes like this :

“Although they’re exhausting, I love my toddlers. They care not a whit about my intelligence, attractiveness, talent, possibilities, or lack thereof. They desire only that I be present. That I give them authentic hugs and closeness, eye contact, and affection. Walking home one night, I realize why I’m so happy and fulfilled these days: giving is synonymous with my truth. With the children, with this book, I’m living as my complete self. Cheryl Strayed writes that her mother would say, to heal, grow, and nurture joy, “Put yourself in the way of beauty.” I like to think that includes service—another manifestation of beauty.”

I loved ‘I Am Yours‘. It is a beautiful book about life, love, family, growing up, pursuing one’s dreams, heartbreak, healing and everything else in-between which is a part of life. It explores some important, intense themes, but it does that in a beautiful, gentle language, which is a pleasure to read. It shows the importance of speaking in one’s voice and depicts the power of love.

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“The idiom everything happens for a reason has never sat well with me. One cannot blurt “everything happens for a reason” to a person who has just lost a loved one, been raped, or been diagnosed with cancer. “Everything happens for a reason” sounds passive, as though all the power in one’s narrative has been surrendered into the hands of others, or, to life’s harsh whims and winds, to decide one’s path, destiny, identity, and sense of self. The truth I prefer is only I assign my experiences their reasons.”

“The foremost and simplest reason we chose the heart as our symbol for love is that our mother’s heartbeat is our original song. Our first inkling that someone is here, with me, and I belong to her. Our mother is our first person in the dark. Perhaps it is off that sublime sensation and memory that we then search for a similar bond, with a future, special person. To be separate yet together, entwined while individual, hearts slipping into sync.”

“I have learned all individuals are beautiful on their own but certain combinations can be catastrophic. Like books and water. Both are vital and life-renewing, but together, they promise tragedy.”

“We tend to think deaths and events are all that require grieving, but selves, choices, habits, and relationships we’ve known, they need loving rituals of healing as well. The speed at which life demands we run, simply to make it to the next day, makes it difficult to see them through. Wounds tally. Addictions anesthetize the pain. We try to stitch while moving. But life’s racing pace continually tears open old scars and mangles the new ones. Mending-while-enduring is well meant but ultimately futile, the sutures never tight enough to hold.”

“Oregon boasts all kinds of rain. There is drizzle, so light it sounds like gentle static. It settles on your skin like the shyest kiss. There is lush rain made of fat droplets, so rotund you see them clearly. There is hail in the winter, chilling and aloof, paying me no regard as I run, delivering winds that lift me off the ground. Finally there are summer storms brought by clouds that pass and return swiftly, growing loud then soft with lusty arrogance, making the earth and me swoon, loving every second. The rain is right: if you are to do something, do it well and do it boldly.”

“Language births art, literature, dance, theater, and bedtime stories. Language, science has proven, shapes the way we formulate thoughts. Language sculpts the fables we mine for morals, the idioms that guide us, the jokes we tell to lift the rains. The speeches and anthems that teach us values, inspire our courage, and charge our souls. The lullabies we sing to our children to soothe their fears and make them kind. The poetry we weave around a lover. Words shape thoughts, thoughts breed action, actions create identity, identity directs legacy. We are our words.”

Have you read Reema Zaman’sI Am Yours‘? What do you think about it?

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