Author: Taslima Nasrin
Publ.: Penguin India
MRP: Rs 250
The Sanskrit word ‘Lajja’ literally means ‘Shame’. This book makes one think about the basic tenets upon which a nation must be built. The firebrand writer Taslima Nasrin shot to fame with this novel that first came out in Bengali language in 1993 and was banned by the Bangladesh government after a few months of release. Since then Ms. Nasrin has come in the hate-radar of Islamic clergy and fundamentalists. This novel is more of a mirror that shows the society and the government of Bangladesh their real faces that are indescribably ugly. However, despite getting numerous death threats and after years of exile, the author still refuses to apologize or to be silenced. I think Ms. Nasrin can be called a writer in the truest sense because her work is powerful and deep enough to bring a change in thinking, to show a whole nation its ugliness and to make a dent in the rotten perceptions, changing their track to some extent. That is why Lajja is considered an important book.
Through a fictional story, the disastrous effects of the ‘Babri Masjid’ demolition upon Bangladeshi Hindus are shown. Many true-life incidents and census analyses have been provided so that each point made has a factual backing.
The story revolves around one Dutta family that resides in a place called ‘Tikatuli’ in Bangladesh. Dr. Sudhamoy Dutta, the head, I think, represents the ideal fundamentals upon which the country was conceived. A true patriot and honest to the core, Dr. Sudhamoy fervently takes part in all the national movements but is left alone, ill and paralyzed in his later years; his idealism fails him and he gets reduced to a mute spectator to the crumbling principles, increasing hate-crimes and death of secularism in his beloved country after its liberation. This is what Bangladesh has been shown to become after gaining independence- weakened by injustice, stripped of idealism and paralyzed by genocide.
His son Suranjan Dutta represents the educated and optimistic Hindu youth. At 33, he remains unemployed because of hatred and unfriendly laws against Hindus and thus unmarried as well. He is somewhat of an idealist too and loves his country ardently. However, just like most Hindu youths, he gets nothing but discrimination and antipathy. Finally, his spirit of secularism dies out leading to depression. The way he takes his revenge on a street-worker Shamima, is heart rendering.
Kironmoyee Dutta, Suranjan’s mother is a silent, religious, sacrificing, but unhappy woman who broods in the background throughout the novel, though she puts up in any and every situation stoically with her family, esp. her husband. She represents the under-privileged Bangladeshi Hindu masses that love their country but desire to leave for a ‘safe’ place like Calcutta. After a point, her tears dry out and she submits to her husband and her fate.
Twenty-one years old Maya, the youngest child of Duttas’, is a beautiful and educated young woman and represents the dignity of Hindu women that gets brutalized and lost in the sacrilege and torture inflicted upon the Hindus by their own Muslim brethren.
The family keeps holding on to its idealism, loyalty, and patriotism even when they face poverty and destruction by Muslims enraged over the Babri demotion. However, when the old bonds get strained by bias and intolerance, their hopes hit a hard ground and start cracking up. Apprehensively, Duttas arrive upon a decision they could not even think of earlier.
It is surprising that the book has been written by a Muslim as the author rips apart the hypocrisy of the Bangladeshi government, hell-bent upon Islamizing the entire country and their apathetic and barbaric behavior towards the very same Hindus who once stood by their side in various movements against the oppressors. She openly accuses the religious fundamentalists and even the common Muslim citizens of a prejudiced behavior. There are no purple passages because the purpose of the book is altogether different. Interestingly, Ms. Nasrin completed this book in seven days.
Lajja is not only revealing because of the facts and figures given but it makes one think about the disastrous effects of power going in the hands of fundamentalists. It shows how intolerance, fanaticism and bigotry eat-up secularism and peace in such a nation.