Some stories need to be told. Must be told. Irrespective of who the narrator is.
Luckily for us, Kirthi Jayakumar heeds the advice given to her and pens down the story of Ameenah.
Published by Readomania, The Doodler of Dimashq (brilliantly edited by Indrani Ganguly) is one of those novels that will touch the core of your heart, and you won’t be the same again.
For the story of Ameenah isn’t just a story of a young child who was married off early; of a girl’s broken dreams; of women whose only claim to an identity is whose wife or mother they are; of a girl whose will is of no consequence. Yes, these are harsh realities which we are far removed from. We know of them, may have heard of worse injustices being inflicted on women (female genital mutilation is a horrifying practice that is still prevalent), have heard how the word ‘freedom’ is an alien concept to the likes of Ameenah. These women live an existence that is bereft of any possibility of achieving their heart’s desires.
To quote a line from the book – ‘No dreams, no ambitions, no future.’
Ameenah’s life, the events and experiences that she is witness to, the questions she raises, the decisions that are forced upon her, stung me. So much of Ameenah’s life is so relatable – the compromises we make, the dreams we see and pray would become real, the expectations the world has from women. From then on, Ameenah wasn’t a character for me. She was a part of me. She was a little bit of every woman who has ever been told to do things that are expected of her.
But, like I said The Doodler of Dimashq isn’t just a story of Ameenah being married off early or not having the luxury of ‘freedom’.
What would you do if your world comes crashing down around you?
Caught in the cross-hairs of a raging civil war in Syria is Ameenah. Displaced unexpectedly as a child bride, she navigates out of the heart of Damascus and plunges into the ancient city of Aleppo. Her voyage of self-discovery is a heady mix of the personal and the political—and the maddening noise of conflict weaves a fabric that entangles her with the lives of many around her.
As missile after missile brings the city down into a hapless pile of rubble, Ameenah builds it back up with her simple act of resistance—doodling.
Her life was relatable. Was. Her compromises, her losses, and her dreams too were relatable. Were.
Her reality, however, so horrific and gut-wrenching that it shook me up and ripped my heart apart. Yes, I can see you tut-tut in disagreement and say that all war novels are like that. But that’s the difference – they’re not our reality. Ameenah’s war is. Because, as hard and heart-breaking it is, the truth is that these are events that are happening even as I read the book or write this review.
You keep telling yourself – this has got to be fictional. This has got to be imaginary. This is all a product of the author’s fertile imagination and creative wordplay. Alas, if only that was true. (While the story itself may be fictional, the reality it is based on is not.)
This isn’t history that you read about in books prescribed by the educational boards and mug up, only to forget once the exam is over. This war – claiming millions of innocents for no reason, not to mention the horrendous crimes being inflicted upon the survivors and prisoners – is our reality. For this happening today, right now. And that realization is unnerving.
I want to remain in denial, for it is easier to do that. I want to remain untouched and unaffected. Unfortunately for you, The Doodler of Dimashq will not let you remain in your little bubble of deliberate ignorance anymore. Ameenah is the woman who has suffered what is worse than every human being’s worst nightmare and yet, will become every reader’s symbol of hope, love, and inspiration.
Kirthi’s writing is powerful, vivid, and thought-provoking. I lost count of how many lines I marked my favourite. I lost count of the many times my heart clenched in fear, sorrow, desperate hope, and became one with Ameenah’s heart. Full credit to the author for evoking that level of empathy in a reader who in reality was in a cocoon of blissful, sheltered existence, far away from the rubble and reality of Syria.
And as the author says, ‘I may not be Syrian; I may not have lived through the war. But I’m human. And I can feel.’
There were umpteen times when it almost brought tears to my eyes or lit up my face with a hopeful smile. There were times when I just couldn’t read on further because my heart was so choked with emotion. Other times, I read the same lines over and over again. That’s how strong an impact ‘The Doodler of Dimashq’ had on me.
Some stories need to be read. Must be read. The Doodler of Dimashq is one such book.
As Ameenah’s story touches the core of my heart, it reminds me of the powerful rendition of ‘Bol’ in Sonam Kalra’s melodious voice, based on a poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
As the singer’s Youtube channel describes –
It is about speaking out. Speaking out against injustice. Speaking out for what you believe in. Speaking out for who you are. Using your voice to make a change. Freedom of speech is one our greatest freedoms and we should use it judiciously and pertinently. No change can come about unless you speak out. This song urges people to not remain silent or turn a blind eye to injustice, but to the power of their voices and their collective voices to make a difference.
Write on, Kirthi Jayakumar… And thank you for bringing Ameenah’s story to life. For bringing her story to us.
Grab your copy of the book on Amazon here for this is a must read!