It was in the first quarter of 1995, just before my ninth exam, I first read Lajja. Needless to say, the far lighter Malayalam translation, which was not heavy-packed with the statistical data that Taslima had used, had moved me greatly. I was proud to have read the most controversial novel of that time and was hopeful about the meaningful debate on majoritarian communalism it would trigger.
Thirteen years later, the local school boy who grew in physical and academic sense (though remains as confused and touchy as he was), who has by now turned an avid anglophile and an English journalist, revisited the sad story of Suranjan. The disorientation of a progressive, intelligent and politically sensitive youth Suranjan in the communal mayhem in Bangladesh post Babri Masjid demolition and the “naïve mix of idealism and optimism” of his deeply patriotic father Sudhanmoy Dutta who is ashamed to leave his homeland give us a poignant story. Which, I believe is very realistic and sincere portrayal of deep personal tragedies in the midst of communal barbarism.
The novel brilliantly exposes our savage instinct to vanquish the weak. It reaffirms our commonsensical understanding of the origin of all communal cleansing: the ugly desire for power and resources; the ulterior intention to capture the legitimate political and physical space of the hapless minority using the numerical muzzle. In Indian condition, the victims are primarily Muslims as exemplified by Gujarat and countless riots which preceded it. Whereas, in Bangladesh it is Hindus who stayed on the motherland for the pride and love of Bengal.
At the receiving end of all barbarism, alienation and slights including the brutal rape and killing of his sister Maya, Suranjan soliloquises “What the BJP was in India, the Jamaat-i-Islami was in Bangladesh. The purpose of both groups was the same – the establishment of what might be called fundamentalism” (page 133).
All these years after the first reading I was disappointed since the novel has unfortunately hit the wrong target. I wondered all these years why it couldn’t be the trigger point of a useful debate on majoritarian communalism which in Indian situation would have helped analyse the anatomy of Sangh Parivar politics. But the intellectually void fundamental elements in the Muslim clerical leadership took offense and have been carrying out a vicious attack against the writer who had shown an outstanding commitment towards secular humanism. In fact, they could have turned the table on Saffronists. On the otherhand, the likes of Modi and Advani, the Hindu counterparts of Muslim and Christian fanatics in other parts of the world, comfortably sit at home and slyly smile at the vociferous expression of intolerance by the Muslim fundamentalists.
In certain ways, it is the failure of Indian liberal elites, intellectual community and particularly the Left, that the highly critical points raised by Taslima could not prompt a constructive debate in the secular platform. It ended up in the wrong hands and turned extremely counter productive and in the process exposed a spineless political leadership (Left in Bengal and Congress in the Centre) who disowned the writer at the behest of an unruly crowd, the self-styled saviours of Indian Muslims, who in turn, paint them badly and put them in a very precarious position. Who is as morally bankrupt as Advani and co.
Bush – Modi connection
Anyway, the extreme rightism and faith-based politics are not something patented by Sangh. The same traits are more than evident in George W Bush, who unleashed the `war of civilization’. Read the review of ‘The Assault on Reason: How the politics of fear, secrecy and blind faith subvert wise decision making, degrade America and imperil America and the world,” authored by Al Gore, Bush's opponent who was unjustly denied the presidency by the jury which was obviously biased towards the Republican. (A.G.Noorani, Frontline, Feb 1).
“President Bush has stolen the symbolism and body language of religion and used it to disguise the most radical effort…” observes Al Gore. Does it find resonance in BJP’s accession of religion?
“No President in recent history abused power with such impunity,” Al Gore observes about Bush. Keeping Modi in mind, we can complement “No ruler in the recent history butchered his country men with such impunity”.
In an essay on apartheid in the context of Barak Obama’s presidential bid, I came across a new word: colour blindness. “Colour blindness and sense of equality are not the same,” it says. The ‘no cast war’ carried out by the upper class Delhi students can be dubbed as a convenient ‘cast blindness’.