Exile by Taslima Nasrin is a book I got into with little info about her. The only things I knew were that she was living in Exile and wasn’t allowed back in her country, Bangladesh. And that this was because of some things that she wrote in the book, Lajja. I haven’t read this book and I’m probably not going to read it anytime soon either simply because I can’t find it in a bookstore near me. I took to Wikipedia but the page has a disclaimer that “This article is an autobiography and has been extensively edited by the subject or someone connected to the subject.” So my knowledge about Nasrin is pretty much based on newspaper articles that I vaguely recall back from 2008 and this book.
The book is mainly a list of events that lead up to her leaving Kolkata and diary style entries about what she did (or wasn’t allowed to do) during her time under house arrest. It doesn’t really provide any insight into the matter apart from her personal point of view and the struggles she went through while under house arrest and how she coped.
It is a rather dry and depressing read to be perfectly honest, and while the first 150 pages were really fast paced, the rest of the book isn’t a page turner. It is more glum and sedate mainly filled with diary style entries of her anguish and disbelief at the way she was being treated.
She starts off with how she landed in India, all high hopes and happiness, filled with expectation at being welcomed back and at how Kolkata would feel again. One of her books gets translated into Telugu and the organisers ask her to come to Hyderabad for the event. After many refusals she finally accepts and this is what leads to the whole disaster. A mob rushes in, threats of riots ensue and Nasrin, the centre figure in all of this, is blamed for pointing out what she believes are the negatives in Islam despite not having even mentioned the word Islam or Religion in her speech there.
“Humans, on the other hand, you can threaten them all you want-you can blow them up too if you want. And those who argue, who try to reason, who try to inspire other people to ask questions-they are not human, they are fire.
Of course, fires must always be put out.”
Now none of these are spoilers because these were largely publicised events. Right from segments by Barkha Dutt and other supposedly supportive journalists to everyone completely ignoring her, these events surprise her and throw her under the bus till she finally succumbs and leaves the country which, she still cannot believe that people want of her.
My opinion on this really doesn’t matter since it isn’t a novel, it is an autobiography. But I will tell you what to expect from this book. There is nothing riveting or earth shattering about it. No revelations or information that was previously unknown. These are simply the jottings of a woman who is under a tremendous amount of pressure and stress after being denied everything she loves. Naturally, diary entries like this will not be a pleasure to read, they will be repetitive and desolate, with recurring thoughts and themes mentioned in every entry.
It actually gets to a point where you start getting depressed along with her and start getting angry at a government that refuses to stand up to radicals and rioters. As it is with most women’s situations in India, the perpetrator, if it is a man, is usually the one that people sympathise with and the women are treated as though they are evil witches who have somehow instigated the man to behave in such a brutish manner. But in Nasrin’s case, she is being blamed for the anger of a whole bunch of people; most of whom she claims are too young and too uninterested to even have read her book.
This book will leave you a little touchy, as I was last night getting angry at every news article I came across and at everything people told me. So if you are easily affected please take note of that. On the one side there are no trigger warnings to be mentioned so you have nothing to worry about on that front. Whether you like her at the end of this or hate her at the end of this, you will be astounded at how strongly she stands by her beliefs and that made this a really interesting read.
On 21 November 2007, the city of Kolkata came to a rude, screeching halt as a virulent mob of religious fanatics took to the streets. Armed with a fatwa from their ideologues, the mob demanded that Taslima Nasrin leave the city immediately. While the police stood watching, mere dumb witnesses to such hooliganism, a morally, intellectually and politically bankrupt Left Front government, tottering under the strain of their thirty-year-old backward-looking rule, decided to ban her book and drive her out of the city she has always considered her second home. This inextricable nexus of petty political conspiracies, vote bank politics and minority appeasement saw Taslima being hurriedly shifted, first to Jaipur and then to Delhi, confined to an obscure safe house and facing incessant pressure from senior officials and politicians to leave India.
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*I was sent a review copy in exchange for an honest review, opinions expressed are my own.