Sunday, December 28, 2008

Lajja: A Review And Some Afterthoughts

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?


Neat Rat said...

"... 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..."

You know that I am not that big on religion either. At least not on the more popular meaning of religion. But, I have to disagree here. Religion can & in fact should be seen as a binding force. Irrespective of the the reason religions came into being, I believe that the strongest point in favor of believing in any religion, or even following it, is the sense of identity & belongingness it gives an individual, along with a degree of accountability for your actions.

Think of it this way. A truly religious person always tries/should try to do things which his god (read belief system) does not consider to be immoral or incorrect. It gives a system of reference to judge your actions, which you otherwise might not be able to. (But do note my emphasis on the word might). People belonging to a certain religion can identify with each other, because there are attributes that match, that help people overcome that initial awkwardness and open up to people of their faith. People feel comfortable, or should I say, more comfortable talking about their issues to people who share the same religion (read beliefs) as they do, and this is quite understandable. For instance, you would rather talk to people your age about the kind of dress you want to buy, or discuss guys... you get the drift. The commonality is what is desired, be it age, the demographics, the gender, the interests or even religion.

This is where, I believe, the strength of religion lies. The feeling of unity, the feeling of belonging. The fact that you try to do things that are considered correct (which is just a manifestation of a god-fearing attitude) by your religious peers is obviously an added advantage.

But, of course, as with all things man-made, there are down-sides as well. After all it is upto us, the followers of religions to interpret the teachings of a religion and act on them. The fact that there have been so many wars on religion, so much conflict and tension, can & should be attributed to the various weaknesses of men (& mankind) viz. greed, both for money & power, (well actually the greed for one usually implies greed for the other), lust, recognition to name a few. It is the same question as 'Are advances in atomic/nuclear sciences good for us?' They did lead to the invention of the atom bomb after all, and led to so much destruction.

No, you should not make such a bold statement at all. Religion is a gift, an idea, that flowers as it is nurtured. I believe that religion has done more good than harm to this world. Even to this day, it brings hope to a number of people. The very reason that many people are able to get on with the tensions & vagaries of life is their belief that the one above is looking after them, and 'jo hoga achcha hoga', or 'upar waale ke ghar me der hai, andher nahi'. These are just other ways of thinking that one must stay positive, put their heads down and face the storm. But hey, if this is what helps you get over your problems in life, if this what gives you inner peace, if this is what makes you truly happy, then who are others to think otherwise?

Shopping makes you happy right? Gymming makes you happy right? Chocolate in any form makes you happy right? Can't you think of any negative aspects of these activities? It is upto us to interpret the meanings as we wish. In the end, these are all ideas, and it is upto us to make up our own damn minds.

I believe religion is a mixed blessing, a blessing for the thousands of devotees one gets to see in all the temples one visits, in the midst of whom even I feel quite religiously inclined, in the midst of whom even I feel like just sitting and believing in THEIR concept of god. At the same time it is a bane for those who have had to bear the brunt of the religious wars, the intolerance, the instigations. But then that is the nature of all things. Even love is a mixed blessing. Depends how you look at it.

Bhavya said...

A comment longer than the average post on this blog! Aisa atyachaar!

Well, I beg to differ. I think one can have a valus system to abide by, one can be spiritual, one can find ways of deciding upon the right thing to do and doing the right thing without holding on to the crutches of religion.

And excuse me, "No, you should not make such a bold statement at all." It's a free country dude. I have the right to say what I feel, to write what I think. As do you.

Neat Rat said...

I know that you can do all that without believing in religion... And that is exactly what I said. Religion should be treated as a means, not an end. But it is upto the people to use the means judiciously.

Religion is not a crutch, if that is what you comprehend after reading my comment, then I have failed to put forth my ideas as I desired to. Well, that I would leave for later. But, if I may, I'll just say, look at religion objectively, not as a retarded system for those with the 'other' bent of mind. It needs to be treated with respect and maturity, not derision. It is not a crutch, but a means of enablement. It can help people as well as encumber them. It is upto each individual to treat it properly.

I re-iterate, religion for me, is a belief system, if you can find your beliefs some other way, then so be it. But following a religion is an excellent way to do so. And hence, I also follow a religion, albeit one of my own making, but it has what I need of it. I can call it my value system, my morality, my ethics. I just choose to call it my religion. I would use a line from Matrix, "Love is just a word". So is religion. Give it whatever meaning you want.

And yeah, it is a free country, and when I say that you should not such a bold statement, I imply that think abut it again, from a different perspective. And then comment... Nothing more, but more importantly, nothing less.

One other thing, and I hope this is what you actually believe, or will see in good light. Let us discuss, not argue. I come in pieces.. ;-)

amitbhatnagar said...

A very touching book indeed.

Towards the end, I almost started finding what Suranjan was doing as just and acceptable.Whatever he underwent appeared to be a personal loss. I wasn't hating him for his wrong-doings, I was almost empathizing with him.
And when a book can do this to me (I consider myself a sane, balanced person), I have to admit that it's a very powerful book.

Bhavya said...

Then I guess it's perfectly okay if a slightly insane person like me found his behaviour acceptable from beginning to end!