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Finches IV

The climactic scene in this piece came about because of a particular fascination I had with the idea that children were their mothers' shields from the flames of Hell according to a story related in the hadiths of Al-Bukhari and Muslim. Specifically, as narrated by Abu Said Al-Khudri:

Some women requested the Prophet to fix a day for them as the men were taking all his time. On that he promised them one day for religious lessons and commandments. Once during such a lesson the Prophet said, "A woman whose three children die will be shielded by them from the Hell fire." On that a woman asked, "If only two die?" He replied, "Even two (will shield her from the Hell-fire)."

It was a story I recall being related to me as part of my Islamic Studies classes as a child, as a means of establishing the lofty rank of mothers in Islam. This hadith was also a reflection on the high infant mortality rate of the early Islamic period. Children died in a matter of fact way of life, because life expentancies for that period were short, due to war, malnutrition, harsh weather and all the other things that hospitals and anaesthetics have dulled. Because life expectancies were much shorter, girls married younger, to take advantage of their fertile period for as long as possible. That trend persists in places where life is particularly hard even today. Another point of interest that hasn't seemed to change is that younger mothers (in their early teens), especially first time mothers, face much higher risks of infant mortality, or indeed, losing their own life during the birthing process. Given that being a mother was so inherrently dangerous (and still isn't entirely safe in the present day), it's no wonder mothers, the most effective means of propagating the Islamic faith outside of conversion by warfare, were given such importance in Muslim scripture.

It is also said that heaven lies under the mother's feet. Both the power of the mother and her capacity to shape the nature of her child's afterlife were what led me to develop Aishah's story as it occurred. I asked questions like, "What would the mother of a deeply deformed child do, when faced with the thing she birthed for the first time?" Wouldn't she more likely wish it dead than alive?

Another major factor in the story happened because my mother once asked why I couldn't write stories about traditional Malaysian spirits. I think she was hoping I'd write something commercially viable -- not... one of my redeeming traits. However, she did ask pretty specifically why I couldn't write a nice story about pontianak or toyol, both spirits related to women who die in childbirth and aborted infacts/victims of infanticide respectively. That put the idea in my head that I could probably slip in a toyol into Finches. I even knew which chapter I'd have it in. Toyol are often pictured as infant-sized spirits, looking pretty much like graying infant corpses with clouded eyes, and as luck would have it, I already had a character like that. The story about pontianak though, may take a while to manifest itself.

So, a lot of storytelling about mothers (and a demon baby) -- exactly what this chapter has written itself into.

Title: Strong Faith
Words: 6,033
Finished: 31/01/10
Time Since Inception: 4 years+



( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 11th, 2010 03:01 pm (UTC)
For some reason, this post reminds me of a PBS documentary on young African women who suffered from health issues after unsuccessful child births (usually for first children). They were so young.

Anyway, any chance that I get to read Finches IV? I think I've read 1-3. :)
Feb. 12th, 2010 06:07 pm (UTC)
Mind sending me an email? Tried to send out the chapter last night, but I think I got your email wrong.

The PBS documentary you watched reminds me of an article I read once about inner Afghanistan, where a midwife was talking about the children she helped in labour. Very young girls, some 12, barely big enough to hold in her arms, giving birth to small, malnourished babies.
Feb. 15th, 2010 10:26 pm (UTC)
and people wonder why I think pregnancy is evil. XD

countlibras at yahoo dot com

I hope you're having a lovely weekend. Did you bother with any New Year things? (does your mom celebrate Chinese New Year?)
Feb. 16th, 2010 12:46 am (UTC)
Sent! :)

We had a 3-course dinner I made. Yummy crab and scallop soup (recipe forthcoming on this LJ), baked chicken with a five-spice salt and sesame oil rub and store-bought tong yuen (sweet dumplings) in soy milk. Mom does celebrate CNY. We used to go to my maternal grandma's house for the reunion dinner every year we could. She also believes in cleaning the house before CNY and not sweeping for at least a week, for good luck purposes.
Feb. 11th, 2010 06:52 pm (UTC)
Fascinating. I can hardly wait.
Feb. 11th, 2010 11:26 pm (UTC)
One more chapter. Doing my best to work on it whenever I can!
Feb. 11th, 2010 07:44 pm (UTC)
Angiak! Angiak! Angiak! :)

That trend persists in places where life is particularly hard even today.

This is like one of the two popular angles on teen pregnancy in the US: bored kids of lazy liberal parents who don't teach 'em to shut their legs, or alternately, poor (but still bored) kids in hard scrabble and/or rough areas, with absentee or apathetic parents who etc.

Statistics do suggest that poverty contributes to teen pregnancy rates (down over recent years, but on the rise now), but I've not seen anybody look at it the way they look at child marriage or young motherhood abroad and call it out as an unspoken reaction to the same or similar pressures.

Also, wording of text on children as a mother's shield against Hell-fire makes me want to draw bad, bad things.
Feb. 11th, 2010 11:26 pm (UTC)
Re: hell-fire -- hence, why I drew bad, bad things with words.

Toyol are like angiak, except they're kept as pets by evil wizards in hidden jars and love to steal stuff.

The cultural apathy towards povery/teen pregnancy isn't reserved to the US. I've met people abroad who think the same, that it's all about poor morals thanks to bad upbringing, as a means for conservative, upper-class values to reinforce that they are removed from the economic struggle that breeds flexibility into strict moral rules for the sake of survival. (Ie. why poor women have to work and women who can afford to be housewives don't.)

However, whether the low quality of life is due to warfare or urban neglect really makes little difference. Wherever the quality of life is poor, it is more likely that women are breeding younger (which means marrying or moving out younger), because it is part of an unspoken reaction to adversity (and surviving it).
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )