The stories in Jackie Kabir’s Silent Noise
have an element of everydayness to them. Their titles wrap around this. From “Mundane Monday” to “The Visit” and “Arshi,” the stories are about ordinary people and ordinary lives. Yet, Kabir shows, the ordinary and everydayness is not as simplistic and uncomplicated as people think it is. Her stories begin with a certain sense of anxiousness or relaxation that seems to be what anyone living in a city or quiet town can relate to, only to transform in a few sentences the ending into something unexpected, even puzzling or sad sometimes.
This is the impression that one is left with, upon reading this anthology. The feelings and themes are known to most readers as they strike down to the heart of the matter. And, from experience, we know that the heart of the matter can be convoluted or even emotionally frustrating. Some stories are sweet and succinct, offering another interpretation of life while others start on a happy note but end with such a discordant tune that it rings in your ears.
In these stories, Kabir explores the emotions and queries people usually have when confronting the unexpected.
Some of these tales seem inspired by newspaper articles of some real incident that happened somewhere in Bangladesh. One such story is “Undesired Desire,” which brings out the perspective of a woman who’s a victim of a sexual assault. In a culture where women are readily blamed for the trauma and abuse inflicted on them, the story captures how a young girl is full of excitement and expectations before meeting a prospective lover only to have that dream shattered. In this story, Kabir is subtly raising questions about the patriarchal norms that perpetrate and justify such assaults.
A similar question is addressed in “Arshi,” but in a completely different, almost perplexing way. I can understand the character of Arshi well; she is the sort of woman whom people avoid for societal conventions. She is an aged female woman who’s still a bachelor; so, people start defining her as apathetic, selfish and materialistic. Arshi doesn’t seem to care, though, that people are avoiding her, but she does suffer as her inner life and past are never understood. When readers are at the end of the story, we can comprehend that Kabir’s metaphor of the flower which is pure but attracts the snake implies who Arshi is. Yet, people would remain in the dark about this as they never tried to know the truth about her.
In these stories, Kabir explores the emotions and queries people usually have when confronting the unexpected. This is a book that celebrates everydayness and Kabir shows that everydayness is not so mundane after all.
Zarin Rafiuddin reviews books for Arts & Letters. She also writes about films and literature.