This highly controversial novel by Taslima Nasreen was one I'd wanted to-read for a really long while now, but somehow never got round to it. It had been on my to read list for so long, in fact, that I'd forgotten that it was on the list. So it was just by chance that I happened to sit down with this book.
Now I am the kind of person who shows little or no interest in politics, hardly ever reads newspapers, loved Mathematics and Science in school, but wished she didn't have to study Social Science. So this was actually a venture into unfamiliar territory for me.
I am not sure what it was about the book, but it had me hooked pretty early on, in spite of everything I just said. The manner in which it is written sometimes seems more befitting for a history textbook or a newspaper article, given the way the author clobbers her readers with facts, with their sheer volume. But even so, she makes you feel the pain, the agony, the anguish felt by the Hindus in Bangladesh during the 1992 riots, soon after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, in a way a simple factual account in a textbook or newspaper cannot hope to achieve.
It puts things in perspective. Girls like us complain about Delhi not being safe for girls at night. This is the kind of thing that reminds us to be thankful that our city is pretty much safe for us to wander about by ourselves in the daytime. There are places, not too far from where we live, which are or have been highly unsafe for any man, woman or child to venture out into, even in broad daylight.
Taslima gives a very realistic, very human touch to the story by characterising her protagonist, Suranjan's character, the way she does. Here's this guy, who has this very idealistic take on a lot of things, who believes that things will automatically turn out right, the way they should. He's a total underachiever, in terms of his professional life and his romantic life. He doesn't want to work for anybody. Often, all he wants to do is sleep all day. I think, at some level, a lot of us can relate to him. I think that this character is the most significant factor in giving this book its appeal.
And she does, of course, bring to the forefront, the kind of marauding that goes on in the name of religion. She talks of Bangladesh, but, as we know, this kind of thing happens in a lot of places. Including India. I have never been a very religious person myself, and I am often prompted to think that, in this country, only two things happen in the name of religion. Either people waste their time and money, or they fight with one another. This book has led me to think so once again, even more strongly than before. Religion seems to be a very convenient excuse for conducting a robbery in broad daylight. It also seems to be something that political parties keep trying to leverage to their advantage, with little or no regard for the lives of innocent people that are lost in the process. Do certain people not have the right to lie, or to protect their lives and property, just because of their religion? Actually, the "just because of their religion" part is entirely unnecessary here. I don't think that there is any reason strong enough to cause a non criminal person to forfeit the right to live. Do you?