Sultana's Dream

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Sultana's Dream
May 2011


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Editorial - Part II    

And now as I promised, back to the story of Sultana’s Dream. Why did we decide on this particular title?  

More than a hundred years ago in what was then an undivided India, a tiny veiled Bengali woman wrote a fifteen-page novella called Sultana’s Dream. Her name was Begum Rokeya Hossain, an early self-conscious feminist. Rokeya was fortunate to have a brother who taught his sister how to read and write after he returned home from school each day.

Years later, as an adult woman, she created her own utopian vision when she wrote her satire, Sultana’s Dream in 1905. Sultana’s Dream takes place in the country of Ladyland where women run the country: women are the politicians, the scientists, the soldiers and the traders. Their men languish inside the zenana—the harem if you will—in purdah. How this turn of events came about makes interesting reading and, when Rokeya’s husband  first read his wife’s book he exclaimed,  ‘Ah, a splendid  revenge!’ Begum Rokeya was fortunate to have married a progressive man who encouraged his wife to further her education--theirs was a love match.

The same tiny woman established a school for Muslim girls for, at the time, no formal education existed for girls; each day Rokeya’s students travelled by carriage to school. According to unwritten customary laws their transport was also ‘veiled’ as the young women were travelling outside their homes. So behind the heavily curtained windows of the wagon sat heavily veiled, heavily perspiring young girls in the stifling heat. While Rokeya did not believe in the veil, she was prepared to compromise if this was the only way for her girls to receive an education.

At night Begum Rokeya sat with pen and paper writing the first feminist utopian dream ten years before Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) published her famous work Herland in 1915.

Rokeya reinvented herself. From an illiterate young girl she turned herself into an educationalist and a writer. Today she is a feminist icon for women in Bangladesh. Some of our readers may decide to ‘adopt’ the fictional character, Sultana, who sits in the sun daydreaming and wakens to find herself in Ladyland!

But we issue a caveat: the book, Sultana’s Dream, was never meant to lull its female readers into a trance; on the contrary, it was supposed to break women out of a trance, by using satire to provide a vision of a different world. Rokeya meant it as a catalyst to start women thinking and talking to each other. And through your support, that’s just what we want to achieve.

Hanifa Deen
March 2011