BASS 2016: Tahmima Anam, “Garments” from Freeman’s, Fall 2015

One day Mala lowers her mask and says to Jesmin, my boyfriend wants to marry you. Jesmin is six shirts behind so she doesn’t look up. After the bell, Mala explains. For months now she’s been telling the girls, ya, any day now me and Dulal are going to the Kazi. They don’t believe her, they know her boyfriend works in an air-conditioned shop. No way he was going to marry a garments girl. Now she has a scheme and when Jesmin hears it, she thinks, it’s not so bad.
Two days later Mala’s sweating like it’s July. He wants one more. Three wives. We have to find a girl.

Not your typical wedding story. No bridesmaids complaining about dresses, no estranged relatives forced into the same room for the first time in decades, no kids being cute and/or troublesome, no muttering from giver or givee about presents. Just three girls and a guy getting married because they’re all broken, in one way or another, and “Jesmin sees marriage as a remedy. If you are a girl you have many problems, but all of them can be fixed if you have a husband.”

I’m not sure a wedding can fix the particular ways these particular people are broken. Take Mala:

Jesmin watches the back of Mala and Dulal. She knows that Mala’s brother died in Rana. That Mala had held up his photo for seven weeks, hoping he would come out from under the cement.… Mala’s face was cracked, like a broken eggshell, until she found Dulal. Now she comes to the factory, works like magic, tells her jokes, does her overtime as if it never happened, but Jesmin knows that once you die like that, on the street or in the factory, your life isn’t your life anymore.

The theme of female brokenness crosses oceans. The factory in which the girls work makes, among other things, Spanx. The story refers to them as Thanks, so called, the rumor goes, because the women who wear them look so good, they say “Thanks!” to their panties. Broken women in Bangladesh, making high-priced super-control underwear for Western women trying to fix their own perceived brokenness. But it isn’t just the women: we discover Dulal, the husband, has his brokenness as well, a brokenness he tries to fix with three wives. And then there’s the very real-life broken factory, the 2013 collapse of which in Rana killed 1,137 people besides Mala’s fictional brother.

Back in a linguistics class in another millennium, we spent a class period examining the usages of “broke” to obscure or locate intent or blame. The window was broken. The window broke. He broke it. The ball broke the window. All the ways we can distance violence from breakage, and all that’s left are shards to be swept up and something that needs fixing, the kind of broken a husband, three wives, or six ounces of Spandex can’t touch.

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3 responses to “BASS 2016: Tahmima Anam, “Garments” from Freeman’s, Fall 2015

  1. This story–which I really liked–struck me as an offshoot of a picaresque tale. Jesmin does what she needs in order to survive. She does this by keeping a fluid sense of things, rather than a firmly fixed sense of right and wrong. Event the ability to turn “Spanx”–in the literal sense of the word, a form of discipline for wrongdoing–into “thanks” is an embodiment of this fluidity. This enables her to take the absurd material of her life and fashion it into a something for which she is, at the end, strangely grateful.

    • So interesting to see a completely different view of the story, through the lens of fluidity instead of brokenness. I sure wish I’d thought of that Spanx/Thanks transition – for me, it’s not so much about the fluidity as the brokenness required to see punishment as gratitude-worthy.

  2. Pingback: BASS 2016: Just What I Needed Right Now | A Just Recompense

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