Painful but true, spine-chilling but gripping, Maria Akhanji’s Salt And Pepper will leave you shattered. Touching the taboo territory, this book explores the un-talked brutalities and barbarities that have engulfed our society. Probing the prevalent themes like child abuse (by blood relations), dysfunctional families, and the importance of hijab, this book is a complete package of taboo-talk.
It’s a story of Ranya’s evolution, a 6 years old Bengali Muslim living in Dubai – then Bangladesh – then London. She experiences the worst nightmares of a child at an early stage of life. A sexually abusive father, an emotionally, verbally, and physically abusive mother, a caring yet indifferent elder sister, and a loving but long gone brother are all that Ranya has in her life.
Filled with the traumas of a mastered and a molested child, this book can send chills down the spine of its reader. There are dialogues uttered by characters that can leave you in shock for hours. There are scenes that can fill you with disgust over the creatures that call themselves human. It sheds light on the struggles of those who are victims of sexual assault but they either choose not to talk about it or muffled when they try. There are instances when Ranya tries to confide in someone about what has been happening to her but she just cannot. She is the one who’s referred as salt and pepper throughout the story. And this behviour leads her to believe this:
“Being salt and pepper taught me to hide feelings that were unfathomable by others.”
Another prominent aspect that it covers is that of ‘hijab’. It presents hijab as ‘not just a piece of cloth but rather a modest appearance that’ doesn’t ‘provoke sexual predators’. It showcases hijab as a preventive measure against the deadly disease that is ‘perverted men’.
Ranya’s story is the story of several girls who are the living proof of how low blood relations can stoop. And this is not just in terms of what her father does to her but her mother and brother, too. Her mother, who lacks even a shred of sympathy and sensitivity, is the prime example of an oppressive and authoritative woman. Many of the troubles that cloud Ranya’s life spring from her mother’s irrational and erratic behaviour. Her jealousy and narcissism fail her as a mother.
Megha, Ranya’s elder sister, found marriage to be her escape from the domestic abuse. Their brother, Yasin, didn’t return from London and married there, as well. That was his form of escape from a dysfunctional family. Ranya had to endure this pain for the longest time. Although she thought that life would be different once she went back to London to live with her brother and bibha, sister-in-law, yet nothing really changed. The only change was that the abuse shifted from being physical to psychological.
From mental torment to physical torture, a victim of the worst, Ranya finally gives in to the norm of the eastern societies. However, the story leaves the reader at a cliffhanger which makes us itch for the second part of this trilogy, ‘BrideMaids’.