ABOUT THE STORY In 1993, the writer Taslima Nasrin created a sensation in her native Bangladesh with Lajja, her novel about the travails of a Hindu family in Dhaka in the wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in faraway Ayodhya in 1992. The author soon confronted torments similar to those facing her characters, as her book was banned for its radical empathy with a minority in her homeland. Targeted by fundamentalists, Nasrin fled her homeland for India, where for many years she has been subject to equivocal and often expedient treatment from various governments, both in the states and at the centre.
Presented here is the opening section of Lajja from a new English translation that marks the twentieth anniversary of the book’s publication. The novel is written in the great humanist and panoramic tradition of South Asian novels such as Yashpal’s Jhootha Sach, Intizar Husain’s Basti and Qurratulain Hyder’s Aag Ka Darya, but is marked by Nasrin’s particular emphases and stylistic quirks. When we read that Suronjon, the novel’s young protagonist, feels hounded not by hostile Muslims but by the word “safety,” we sense abruptly the terrible weight states place on individuals when they fail in their responsibility to protect all their citizens. Nasrin reminds us of the thinness of the wall dividing civilisation from barbarism, and of how so much of what we intuitively consider justice has at its core some barbarous logic of action and reaction, us and them.
The new translation of Lajja, by Anchita Ghatak, will be published in September by Penguin Books.