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‘I’ll design the sexiest hijab possible’

Suad Amiry uses humour and everyday experiences to talk about the Palestinian life, writes Paramita Ghosh.

books Updated: Feb 13, 2010 01:05 IST
Paramita Ghosh

At the India International Centre lawn, Suad Amiry, author of Menopausal Palestine, drew her cardigan close. Suad, who wrote her first book, Sharon and My mother-in-law, in her 50s, says she doesn’t want to begin by talking about the Wailing Wall. Or about Arab coffee. Since no one wants to talk of Palestine these days, we decide to talk about Israel.

“There is a drill at the Ben Gurion Airport for those who look Arab,” says Suad whose day job as the founder-director of Riwaq, the Centre for Architectural Conservation, in Ramallah, requires frequent international travel. “Once, I was returning home at 5 am and wasn’t up to the interrogation. ‘Where were you?’ they asked. ‘London,’ I said. ‘What were you doing in London?’ ‘I went dancing,’ I said. ‘Are you crazy?’ they said. ‘You’re against dancing?’ I asked. So along comes the big boss who says if I didn’t cooperate, they would arrest me.’” So who won? “I was ready for the big scene, but this was in the middle of the airport and the Israelis care for their tourism,” said the 59-year-old writer brightly.

Suad’s life, like most Palestinians, is cut into many halves. She was “schoolholic” in Jordan. Like most of the diaspora, she grew up supporting the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). Her mother is Syrian. Her father is a broadcaster from the ‘Generation of 48’, the first generation of Palestinians who faced and resisted Israeli occupation.

In her books Murad, Murad, and in Menopausal Palestine, when Suad tells stories of the ‘loss’ of Palestine, through her characters’ eyes, she returns repeatedly to her father. “A Palestinian writer loses his or her country many times… Father told me about his home in Jaffa. How he had to leave home

suddenly.” Suad retains the epic quality of Palestinian memory in her book. In it, she recalls the social history of her country through the stories of an unusual group, the Committee of Ramallah Independent Menopausal Enterprise (CRIME), that seems like a PLO kitty party. The setting is a café. The time: the day before Hamas sweeps the 2006 elections in Gaza.

In between talks of babies and wedding nights, the talk in Menopausal turns to Hamas. “You know you’re menopausal when all your ‘maybes’ and ‘perhaps-es’ are replaced by ‘I-am- dead certain’... At least Fatah is a secular movement. What worries me is Hamas’ social agenda… Hamas wants to force us into wearing the hijab? Let them try. I will design the sexiest hijab possible.”

How does Suad see Hamas? It’s unclear because towards the end of the book, she seems to stand with them even as her opposition to the veil, for instance, seems to confirm the western bias of seeing the Hamas as a religious pan-Islamic force like the al-Qaeda.

The Hamas, Suad agrees, is not al-Qaeda. It uses the Islamic idiom to fight a national liberation struggle. “But its win gave Israel a handle to divert attention from our real problem — the Occupation. I oppose the Hamas not because it is religious, but because it is rightwing. It’s time to reflect why people voted Hamas.”

As a writer Suad’s style is singular. She uses humour and everyday experiences of Palestinian life without bringing in political discussions. Why? “We have to find new ways of telling our stories. A film like Paradise Now, for instance, is an important film. It’s easy to be against crime. But as you think ‘I’m against suicide bombing’, it suddenly puts you in the responsibility to understand what pushes a young man to become a suicide bomber,” she says.

“Next time,” she promises, “we’ll talk of the olive trees.”