I think I was fourteen years old when I first picked up a battered second-hand copy of Lajja (Shame) by Taslima Nasrin in a bookstore. And then I heard a voice of a friend, saying that I should not read such “controversial” books. Back home, I asked my mother what was Lajja, and she said: “It’s a great book, but messes up your mind to a certain extent”. And after reading Lajja, I think she was right, it does messes up with your mind but in a positive manner.
Few weeks back I visited Baharison’s bookseller in Khan Market with Puneet, where again I picked up the copy of Lajja. And decided, it’s time to revisit this controversial text that shows how one event across the border can affect many. Event: When Babri Masjid was demolished and after effects being what happened in Bangladesh. From last two days I’ve been devouring this book, satiating my curiosity as to why Taslima Nasrin, the writer, was shunned, a Fatwa was charted out for her and she was driven out of her homeland.
The above lines are from Sudhamoy’s soul, an affluent and respectable physician, who is now lying in bed, thinking that what changed his homeland? And should he really move out of Bangladesh and go to India for his family’s safety? After the demolition of Babri Masjid by Kar Sevaks, the ripples of communal riots can also be seen in Bangladesh. And this is not the first time Sudhamoy is witnessing something like this. Two years back, he remembers how his son, Suronjon, picked up everyone in the family and took shelter in a Muslim neighborhood when communal riots threatened their life.
Sudhamoy believes that Bangladesh is his country, where he lived his whole life and will die also in it’s arm. His forefathers were a part of this land, he himself fought for the liberation of this country, but at what cost? Tortured and almost killed in camps, Sudhamoy returns back as a ghost. But he still doesn’t give up on Bangladesh. He still believes that the country one day will accept as he is, as a Hindu living without fear in his homeland.
The same thought system has been instilled in his son Suronjon. But after demolition of Babri Masjid and inhuman killings on the streets of Bangladesh, Suronjon’s views are changing rapidly. He feels threatened and alienated. He observes that he is not in his country anymore, where he could roam around freely. Sudhamoy, in the end, gives into Suronjon’s demand to move out of Bangladesh, but at what cost? Their discussions and deliberations cause such a delay that Suronjon’s sister Maya, the sanest and rational voice in the story, is abducted from their home, right in front of her parents. Maya’s mother, Kironmoyee tries to save her, throwing herself at the abductees, but all in vain. While Suronjon was out in streets, fighting his ideals, his sister was being raped and eventually murdered in the same streets where they both once played.
The crumbling of Maya’s character can be sensed from the very beginning of Lajja, but it comes so swiftly that it leaves you stunned. You feel the loss of a character that at first, seemed kinda extra, but leaves a heavy impact on your mind. Hardly many of us come across stories of horrors from these communal riots, but when they do come to light, it is hard for us to believe that fellow humans could turn into such animals. That how, religion can convert some people into monsters!
The most striking feature of Lajja is Suronjon’s internal struggle of what he believes and what he is witnessing. A man who believed that both the communities can live peacefully together now witnesses only death and destruction. Something, that many of us feel today when we come across such incidents. The only thing that Suronjon can burn in his country is his books, that contributed towards his idealism, an idealism that is now shattered and in ruins.
When you read Lajja, it challenges your thought process. At times you will feel sheer hatred towards the crime committed against a specific sect, and at times you feel pity towards humans who take religion above everything else in this world. After reading Lajja, I am not surprised that Nasrin was shoved out of her own country. In an article in the Scroll, Nasrin clearly states that ”’Lajja’ reminds Bangladesh that it failed to protect Hindus”. The book undoubtedly is controversial but is also an important part of a history that needs to be revisited again, so that communal riots like these can be avoided.
Lajja is not a book that can be read and kept in your closet, it’s a reminder that needs to looked into before it’s too late. It’s a timeless classic that needs to be read more, to understand the plight of countries fighting over religion, and how we can retain idealism of people who give importance to humanity over religion.