“Sin is a Puppy that Follows You Home” is a translated Hausa novel brought to us by the adventurous Blaft Publication. This book belongs to a literary movement in northern Nigeria-however I knew very little of all this when I read the book. All I knew was what Rakesh had mentioned during the Bangalore comic con-that it’s an unusual pulp novel by a popular Nigerian author and quite dramatic like our homespun TV K-serials!
I skipped the note from the publishers (since I like to keep a fresh mind when reading a book) and got on to it. The racy, if a tad-too-didactic, women-centred plot kept me hooked. It revolves around the travails of Rabi who has a philandering, stingy and selfish husband and nine children to bring up. Since it is set highly patriarchal society, the narrative ends with the status quo being maintained-however it also has a subtle subversive undertone.
Often humorous and witty, the narrative avoided the stiff tone of inadequate translations that leave the reader in an emotional vacuum. The story is peppered with unfamiliar proverbs, such as “…just as it is impossible to avoid accidentally biting ones tongue with ones teeth once in a while, it is equally impossible to prevent women from quarrelling.” I wonder if the title is a common one in Hausa culture. Detailed descriptions of meals, rituals and customs bring alive the Hausa traditions, in fact even figures like money spent on food are listed out. This reminds me of some of the Oriya folk tales which have a similar detailing of marriage trousseaus or dishes in a meal.
(The following paragraphs contain spoilers.)
In the preface Balraba Ramat Yakubu says “In this book, I tell a story about a type of man found commonly in Nigeria who regards a married woman with children as a sort of slave to be bought or sold at the marketplace.” In this story, the man is named Alhaji Abdu who owns a textile shop at the local market. He spends most of his income on his personal comforts, while his wife Rabi sells food to put together meals for the entire family. However, things take a turn for the worse when Alhaji Abdu falls for another woman, Delu, and makes her his second wife. After a small spat between the two wives, Alhaji divorces Rabi and throws her and his children out of the house.
Homeless and heartbroken, Rabi finds a house on rent with the help of sympathetic relatives and begins to earn a living by selling homemade food. Eventually she becomes self sufficient and her eldest daughter, Saudatu gets a rich husband. Things seem to be looking up for Rabi.
However, after this point the narrative seems to stick to conventional norms – the errant husband has a spate of bad luck, the evil woman deserts him at the time of need and he begs his wife for forgiveness. A society that only a while back shunned Alhaji now pressurizes Rabi to take him back; status quo is set with the male being in an acceptable and dominant role again. The men’s club/fraternity syndrome is of course a universal truth.
What sets this book apart, and why I feel that it would appeal to and comfort so many women, is that it portrays Rabi in strong colours-she can earn her living, speak her mind, make quick decisions and even enjoy her freedom. After the conventional resolve, the narrator goes on to say “In the past, Alhaji Abdu had been the head of his household. But now everything had changed. Rabi now took over the role.”