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Read an Excerpt from Cultural Activist & Prolific Writer Rummana Chowdhury's Story Collection, Dusk in the Frog Pond

Rummana Chowdhury-Dusk in the Frog Pond_hi res author photo

Rummana Chowdhury has been a voice for the voiceless for decades: in her work advocating for issues surrounding migration, violence against women, and human rights, particularly in relation to the South Asian diaspora, she has been tireless, fighting for recognition, equity, and safety for all.

And somehow, she's also managed to published a staggering forty-seven books, written in both Bengali and English, earning her accolades for her sharp, realistic, and moving portraits of women and their families, partners, and children. 

Her newest book, the story collection Dusk in the Frog Pond and Other Stories (Inanna Publications), sees Chowdhury bringing her enviable energy to complex renderings of Muslim women navigating love, betrayal, aging, family, politics, culture, and identity. From Toronto and New York to Bangladesh and beyond, the women who anchor these eight stories gather their strength and their wits to forge a path through a changing, challenging, and sometimes, against all odds, joyful world. 

We're proud to present an excerpt from the story "Her Pink Pearls" from Chowdhury's collection, in which we meet Ayesha as she travels home, confronting a crumbling marriage, difficult in-laws, and most importantly, her own evolving sense of self. 

Excerpt from the story "Her Pink Pearls" in Dusk in the Frog Pond:

cover_Dusk in the Frog Pond and Other Stories

New York felt different this time. As Ayesha left the airport, she carried with her a new kind of loneliness. The gold-plated orchid and matching pendant, supposedly made from fresh orchids, that Pam had given her at her layover in Thailand were tucked away snugly in her handbag. Memories of Bangladesh started to fade while she thought about the days ahead. There was the monotony of work: five days a week packing the slaughtered chickens with blood-stained plastic gloves. Then there were the house chores: grocery shopping, cooking three meals a day, laundry and cleaning on the weekend. Days in New York were duty without pleasure and seemed relentless in their demands. It wasn’t just the slog that irked Ayesha. It was her mother-in-law and, perhaps worse these days, her husband, Kamal. Life here with them had begun two decades ago and had devolved into a bad dream, a cheap stereotype.

She’d thought visiting Bangladesh would rejuvenate her. And in a way, it had — while she was there, at least. The effects were fading with each kilometre the cabbie put between her and the airport. Convincing Kamal to let her go was hard. Convincing her mother-in-law Rahima was even harder. She loved the old lady but couldn’t bear the constant reminders of her childlessness. Did her mother-in-law not think she pined for children too? Did Rahima not know how she ached, how she longed for just that? It seemed an unfair point to bully her on. Often when Rahima was droning on about the absence of children, Ayesha felt as if her whole being sighed. She longed to hold some tender little thing to her chest, to sing lullabies to it, feel its warmth, its heartbeat. It would be marvellous to hear the ancient word mother called out to her with infinite, unconditional love from her own child. Her efforts would be worth something then. Her suffering would not be in vain. If Allah blessed her with a child, she promised to go to the grave of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer in India and offer a gold covering quilt for his tomb, following tradition that had been passed down to Ayesha and others in her society from their ancestors. While there she would add rice and meat to the giant copper pot to be cooked and fed to hundreds of destitute people. She also promised the Almighty Above that she would sacrifice two goats in Dhaka and feed the orphanage children biryani with the sacrificial meat.

Marriage hadn’t turned out the way Ayesha imagined. Kamal was handsome, well-spoken and seemed tender at first. However, once the nerves and newness of marriage wore off, things began to slide. The routine of daily life took hold and Kamal settled himself all too naturally into a state of self-interest. He handled the money she brought home, leaving her a nominal amount for her shopping and necessities and then complaining when meals weren’t feasts. He was content to watch television all day, stay out late doing who-knew-what, only to come home blindly groping through the darkened bedroom for what he considered his property, his wife. Any tenderness Kamal had exhibited in the first few months of marriage, any gratitude or generosity, were gone now. In their place were animalism, greed and an overall disregard for the feelings of the woman he married. It would have been different had there been children, perhaps, but Ayesha couldn’t entertain such what-ifs. They were painful, impossible.

That was where the pink pearls came in. Ayesha had given up any hope of Kamal changing. She resigned herself to the subjugation of this life, telling herself that at least if she received a token, a single symbolic manifestation of her worth, perhaps this whole ordeal could be endured. The token she settled her desire on was a string of pink pearls. She’d first seen them five years ago in Canada. Kamal’s sister wore them with a matching pair of drop earrings. Kamal’s sister was the lady of her household, respected and loved by her children and by her husband, and the more Ayesha witnessed her going about her days in confidence and contentment, the more she began to associate those pink peals with her worth, her happiness. It was Ayesha’s birthday soon, and she’d made sure to point out the pearls to Kamal, to let him know how important they were to her, how desirous of them she was. She’d even gone so far as to tell him flat-out once or twice that she would like a string of her own for her birthday. She believed that the pearls would infuse her with the life she wanted, or at least would make her feel as though she had it.

Ayesha brushed away her tears. Kamal drove taxi but hadn’t come to the airport to pick her up for reasons she couldn’t recall. She couldn’t afford the taxi she sat in now, but couldn’t manage her luggage on the bus by herself. Her knees ached. Plane journeys with their cramped spaces aggravated her osteoarthritis, and the smell of the recirculated air inside the plane was nauseating. She hoped her mother-in-law would like the silk sari and woollen shawl that she’d bought in Kolkata. Her West Bengali friends living in Brooklyn had told her to go to Gariahat for cheap rates on saris, shawls and shalwar-kameezes. She had paid a bit more than was in her budget for a particularly special sari because she felt Kamal’s mother would love it, and the matching embroidered shawl was a hundred percent lightweight pashmina wool.

Back in India, as she walked the streets of Gariahat towards the tram line to go back to the hotel, she saw a mother and her teenage daughter sitting on low, coloured cane moras. It was a warm day with a light breeze, the sort that made one feel as though everything, no matter how desolate life seemed, would be okay. The mother and daughter seemed to feel this way as they sat there, hands outstretched, while a man knelt before them applying ornate patterns of henna. Ayesha had never seen a male henna artist on the roadside, even in the streets of old Dhaka in Bangladesh. It struck her enough that she felt compelled to stop and investigate.

“Do you do feet as well?” she asked the artist. 

“Yes, Mem Saheb, we do. Any design, just choose from here.”

The man handed Ayesha a book of exquisite designs. Out of all the flowers, birds, and butterflies, Ayesha selected a lotus. A fully blossomed lotus with a bud and leaf.

“I can only pay you one hundred taka for each foot. Is that okay?”

“Yes, Mem Saheb, I will do it. It is perfectly okay.”

Ayesha spread out her bare feet in total abandon as the artist applied her selected symbol. As he neared completion of the design, the man said, “You did a good thing choosing the lotus, Didi. It’s a good symbol to have a lotus on one’s feet. It symbolizes integrity, trust and purity.”

Ayesha loved her lotus and is meaning so much that she decided to pay double the offered amount. She also felt immense sympathy and pity for the artist, whose only means of income were henna designs and the tips that came from it. As Ayesha sat on the little cane mora, she wanted to know a bit more about henna culture in Kolkata, so she struck up a conversation with the mother and daughter who still sat nearby enjoying their new adornment.

“Are you going to a wedding?” she asked them.

“Yes, my brother’s daughter’s wedding,” said the mother, who was wearing a red-and-white checkered cotton sari.

“Are there not beauty parlours where one could do the same henna? I believe there is a Shomi’s Glamour World branch in Goriahat who could do it?”

“Yes, of course there is, but the price will be triple there.”

The daughter added, “My Ma said that if I save that money, she will put it towards my sari.”

“And there is no difference between the pattern and colour here. So why should I throw my money down the drain?”

Ayesha smiled, told the mother and daughter that their henna looked beautiful and thanked them for entertaining her enquiries. She thought of her own wedding, the optimistic way in which she’d adorned herself, the thrill of what was to come — what she had hoped was to come.

The artist took her sandals and helped her get a taxi to the hotel. Her henna or mehdi had not completely dried, so the journey had to be made barefoot. As she entered the hotel lobby with her hennaed feet, sandals in hand, the Bengali-Chinese receptionist, wearing an exquisite Nakshi Kantha–designed Murshidabad silk sari made by the tribal girls at Shantiniketon, gave her a knowing smile. It was as if, in that moment, the two women shared a secret knowledge of the air of freedom Ayesha’s afternoon held, of the indulgence and symbolism of her freshly painted lotus.


Kamal had just woken up and was eating breakfast when she arrived home. He gave her a pleasant smile and got up to help her with the luggage.

His mother was busy frying parathas, as well as aloo bhaji and bhuna gosht, and chomchom for dessert. The scent of ghee filled the room.

“How is everyone back home? Did you keep well and get to eat all your favourite foods?” Kamal asked in a routine sort of way.

Ayesha took a seat beside him. “The trip was just what I needed. Everyone is well. The food, as always, was exquisite.”

“Did you manage to go to Kolkata?”

“Yes, but Fatima could not go with me. I went alone.”


“Yes, what’s the harm? I know it well.”

Ayesha took a paratha and glanced up to catch a sour stare from her mother-in-law. “Why don’t you let Kamal eat first?” Rahima said.

Her mother-in-law subscribed to systems of the old days in Bangladesh. There, men eat first, and when they are finished, women clear the men’s plates before sitting down to feed themselves. Rahima had been cooking and feeding Kamal for weeks while Ayesha was away and wore her exhaustion with animated exaggeration. Rahima had moved to New York to live with them years ago, after her husband died, and seemed to resent the small spaces and forward-thinking ways.

Ayesha was jet-lagged and did not want to get into a conflict on her first day back. She said nothing to her mother-in-law; she was feeling full anyway. It would be best to shower and sleep a few hours before getting her clothes and lunch ready for work the next morning. As she stood up, Kamal pulled her hand from under the table. He wanted to join her for the shower, but she was in no mood for that. Her energy was drained. She looked at him and shook her head. He scowled and angrily pushed his plate away. If she knew him to be faithful, things might have been different. She might have felt more inclined to entertain his desires.

But she knew better.

It was one Friday last year when she’d gone to Jackson Heights to get halal beef for some guests coming over for the weekend that she’d first caught him. Jackson Heights was the Little Bangladesh of New York, an attraction for all Bangladeshis living abroad and could be compared to the Danforth and Victoria Park of Toronto, which were known as the Little Bangladesh of Canada. There were Bangladeshi grocers selling fruits, vegetables, fish, spices, snacks and sweet meats. There were also Bangladeshi restaurants catering to demands for Bengali biryani, rice and fish combos, bhajees and bhortas. Cooked and uncooked dry fish were specialties. Kamal liked the moghlai kachhi biryani made with mutton and potatoes on Friday afternoons at Aladdin’s. Ayesha had checked the time and, realizing it was almost 2 p.m., when Kamal took his break, had peeked into Aladdin’s and seen Kamal eating biryani with an almond-eyed, black-haired beauty she’d seen around a few times before. They were sitting close, touching knees, and Kamal was putting a spoonful of biryani into her mouth. The two of them smiled like dumb teenagers, and Ayesha, upon seeing them, fled the scene like a burglar.

There were others. Some she knew, some she did not. She found lipstick on his clothing, smelled perfumes that weren’t hers, saw him again on occasion, cozy in a booth with one woman or another. Always smiling, always touching. She confronted him once and was met with a shrug and brush of the hand. He didn’t even care enough to protest. Often, she wished she had the courage to divorce him, imagining what life alone would be like, how free, how easy, how painless.


Excerpt from "Her Pink Pearls" in Dusk in the Frog Pond by Rummana Chowdhury, a story collection published by Inanna Publications. Copyright 2021, Rummana Chowdhury. Reprinted with permission.

Rummana Chowdhury is the author of forty-seven books, both in Bengali and English, comprising poetry, short stories, columns, novels, and analytical essays. Rummana was Bangladesh’s national badminton champion from 1975 to 1978. She excelled academically and was also nationally acclaimed as a leading debate commentator, radio, and TV talk show host and recitation leader.

Today, she has become a leading global commentator on issues of migration that pertain to the South Asian Diaspora, violence against women, Diaspora literature, translation, cultural and historical remembrance strategies, and feminist politics and culture. Rummana has received several notable awards, including Meritorious Service 1977 (RCMP of Canada,) the Ontario Volunteers Award 2000, Woman of the Year 2010 (Canada), and Writer and Translator 2016 (Ontario Bengali Cultural Society). She has also received several awards for her contributions to Bengali, English, and Diaspora literature and her translation work from Bangladesh, India, Europe, and North America, including the International Michael Modhu Sudan Datta Literary Award 2014, the Sunil Gangopaddhyay Literary Award 2017, the Bangladesh Lekhika Sangha Award for Literature and Translation 2017, and the Kobi Jasim Uddin Gold Medal 2019. 

Buy the Book

Dusk in the Frog Pond and Other Stories

In Dusk in the Frog Pond, Rummana Chowdhury presents new narratives about the lived realities of Muslim women as they navigate life, be it in Bangladesh, on the shores of Lake Ontario in Toronto or along the riotous waves of the Atlantic in New York. These eight powerful stories follow a series of intrepid Bangladeshi women as they confront the issues of migration, displacement, nostalgia, cultural assimilation, marriage and—above all— identity and loneliness. Despite the challenges facing them, these compelling characters seek out happiness, whether in arranged marriages, romantic relationships or in shaping their individual destinies. Each tale is a depiction of the tensions, active as well as simmering, between culture, tradition and history and the modern world. The collection is a compendium of both joy and sorrow. It is an eternity coming alive through the fire of hope burning and dying within all of us.