My World of The Unknown
I ordered this book, The Penguin Book of Erotic Stories by Women, to read one of Laila Baalbaki’s short stories but ended up loving Alifa Rifaat’s. Hence, postponing Laila for a while! So, what’s so enchanting about this story? As a kid, we all believed in genies! And, a genie bestows his master with everything that he/she wishes for. I’ve always wanted to have one beside me! Here in this story, “My World of The Unknown”, there is a djinn and what she offers her master is mystical and unworldly!
A woman sets out on train travel to find suitable accommodation for her family in a small town as her husband’s been transferred there. While on the train, she’s reminded of the dream she had the previous night: images of a small white house surrounded by a garden with bushes bearing yellow flowers, a house lying on the edge of a broad canal in which were swans and tall sailing boats.
On her way, she’s astonished to see the same house of her dream. There lives a woman named Aneesa, known as the madwoman and she doesn’t want to leave that house. However, by hook or by crook, the woman rents it and then repairs and decorates as she wishes. While leaving, Aneesa turns back to say, ‘I’m leaving her to you’. Puzzled, the woman asks, ‘Who Aneesa?’ to which she repeats, ‘her’.
One day, while she’s relishing her dream house in its garden, she sees a long, smooth tube, at its end a small striped head with two bright, wary eyes— a snake! She freezes, not scared, but is elated at the beauty of the snake. Coming back to her senses, she calls out ‘a snake, there’s a snake in the house’. Her husband summons Sheikh Farid (from the mosque) to chant verses from the Qur’an. While leaving, he says ‘what you saw is no snake, rather it is one of the monarchs of the earth’— a djinn!
The snake appears again and whispers into her ears, ‘I showed you my home in your sleep… so come my sweet beloved, come and let us explore the depths of the azure of pleasure’. The djinn takes over to [sip] the poisons of [her] desire and [exhale] the nectar of [her] ecstasy. Although delighted in her new explorations of love, she’s confused about the djinn being a woman and not a male. The snake clarifies saying ‘Perfect beauty is to be found only in woman’. From then on, she’s immersed in the burning passion that she agrees to the djinn’s pact (strict deal) that she or her family wouldn’t harm any snakes and vipers they encounter in the house.
After that, she hardly pays any attention to the opening in the wall until one day her husband lets out a cry of alarm. She rushes out to find him holding a stick, with a black, ugly snake almost two metres long, lying at his feet. No words could describe the woman’s sorrow and apprehension as the deal has been broken and they’ve harmed a snake. She couldn’t imagine the outcome of her husband’s act. And her fear comes true, the consequence is unimaginable and pure agony!
It’s painful! Though I haven’t revealed the end of this story, as always, I couldn’t hold myself from expressing my distress for the woman’s plight. Alifa Rifaat takes a deep dive into an Arab woman’s sexual desire, that’s long been suppressed, endowed with a magical expedition to explore the other world and unimagined happiness.
Fatima Rifaat wrote under the pen name Alifa fearing she’d blemish her family’s repute. Unlike the western-influenced depiction of her contemporaries, she focused on the buried and unfulfilled sexual desires of Arab women within the traditional Islamic framework. Most of her stories are set in Egypt and she hasn’t read any works other than Arabic. As the title of the book, her works are too raw and erotic that her works were banned and to date remain controversial. Of her many works, the most popular are the Distant view of a Minaret and Other Stories (1983).
I’ve always wanted to put my reading experience into writing—venting out. With the fecund digital and social space, I’ve decided now the right time to plunge into my ambitious desire of getting to know as many women writers across the world, through their works, regardless of their geographic and ethnic existence. Yet, I’m against the idea of branding my blog as feminist as I choose to read on them purely for the writers’ purport and their ardent works.
I’d like you to be a part of my reading journey and get to know along with me the women writers who’ve been silently transfiguring their areas of interest.