Leesa Gazi’s Hellfire, translated from Bengali by Shabnam Nadiya, is set over one eventful day when Lovely is allowed by her mother to visit a nearby market alone on her birthday. The twist, however, is that Lovely is not a child who needs adult supervision, but a 40-year-old woman.
“Only Allah ta’ala Himself knew how this impossible had become possible today,” Lovely tells us.
The day goes into unexpected, chilling directions for Lovely and her family, especially mother Farida Khanam and sister Beauty, as Gazi’s compact novel unveils the insidious horrors of patriarchy in a seemingly close-knit family in Bangladesh.
The Bengali novel Rourob, Gazi’s debut, was published in 2010, and Nadiya’s new translation, out from Westland’s Eka imprint, is fluid and compelling.
In an email interview with HuffPost India, Gazi said that “the urgency of living under lockdown during the pandemic makes us empathise with the experiences of the characters of Rourob”.
UK-based Gazi, who is also an actor, scriptwriter and filmmaker, runs an arts company called Komola Collective with three other female artists. Her documentary film Rising Silence, based on the lives of women who suffered brutal sexual violence in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, has won several awards.
On the inspiration behing Rourob, Gazi said that there is a “collective effort” to keep women within four walls and make them feel ashamed of their own dreams.
“When a woman growing up in that environment realises for the first time what it’s like to feel free, what it’s like to take control of her own life then something fundamentally changes from deep within, something happens to that woman. That woman can never willingly go back to a place where she cannot feel free, cannot act freely, cannot think freely any more,” said Gazi.
In the interview, she also spoke about why the male characters in Hellfire don’t have much agency, the...