Study Guide

A Border Passage What's Up With the Epigraph?

By Leila Ahmed

What's Up With the Epigraph?

Epigraph 1: Rumi

Ahmed opens her work with a reference to the sound of the reed pipe that she remembers from her early childhood days at Ain Shams. It has a mournful sound to it, as though the instrument yearns for a return to the soil from which it grew. The image of the reed pipe becomes a powerful metaphor for the process of remembering: it's a difficult process, often full of sorrow and yearning to get back to the beginning.

But Rumi's poem tells us something else: if you're going to listen to the song of the reed pipe—really listen to that sorrow and yearning—you're going to have to be willing to dedicate yourself to it. Ahmed's pursuit of memory and meaning requires her to look at her past and the people in it with a careful, untainted eye.

That's a tall order because things past shape who we are in the present. It's hard to see the past without all the baggage that we bring from our experience and education.

Epigraph 2: From Meiling Jin's Strangers in a Hostile Landscape

Meiling Jin speaks of the effects of colonialism on local populations. She highlights some of the more insidious practices of imperial powers: seizing land and leasing it back; allowing local people to produce raw materials but not to develop industry; offering a sham independence from one kind of oppressive rule only to bring on another.

She also mentions a popular path for people living under such conditions: going into exile, looking for stability in a foreign and most likely hostile land. Life as an immigrant might provide some relief from colonial injustice—at least on the surface—but it also opens up a lifetime of harassment and blame.

For Meiling Jin, there is one remedy: flying below the radar. The problem implicit in that? When you're invisible, you don't always count.

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