Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Exile by Taslima Nasrin: a review

I remember the moment I received the book. I was sick, lying on my bed the whole day and I couldn’t move an inch. I was home bound and the walls of the room were eating me up. I wanted some breath of fresh air but I had strict instructions to not move from the bed. It was then the bell had rung and Maa received the book. Handing it over to me, she asked me specifically to not start reading it. You think I listened? As I had the book in my hands, my eyes lit up. A picture clicked for Instagram upload and there I was, sniffing, struggling to even keep my eyes open but reading Taslima Nasrin’s memoir- ‘Exile’ translated in English by Maharghya Chakraborty.

According to the blurb- On 22 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 ideologies, 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. The 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 face incessant pressure from senior officials and politicians to leave India. Set against a rising tide of fundamentalism and intolerance, Exile is a moving and shocking chronicle of Taslima Nasrin’s struggled in India over a period of seven months. Dark, provocative and at times surreal, this memoir will resonate powerfully with readers in the present socio-political scenario. 

Thus, I started my journey with Taslima Nasrin’s memoir. A journey that I have had earlier through the books she had written, through the conversations with my mother, friends, family, and newspapers. Through the time when Maa used to read out passages from her books to me in Bengali. A journey that being a Bengali and living a safe life in Kolkata, I could only know through what people told me. As I was a few pages down the book, I fell for the way she writes. Simple, out spoken, up front with whatever she feels, Taslima Nasrin might just be one narrator that touches your heart. The one thing that this book teaches you as a person, as a reader is Patience.

Trust me when I say that there are parts in the book where you would feel like judging the authoress, because those are the parts where the person inside you rises above the reader inside you. But then on the other hand, you would also have places where you would feel like not leaving the book because of the captivating narration being done. Being a Bengali, I know (if not personally) all those people mentioned in this memoir. So it didn’t take much time for me to get acquainted with them and also this very fact made me so much more engrossed in the book. When I say that this book needs patience, what I mean is that this book is a perfect example of learning how to judge, yet not judge; how to understand, yet not understand; how to read.

Taslima Nasrin in this brutally honest memoir lists everything in vivid detail as it was since her exile. Her author biography says that she has been in exile since 1994. Rightfully so. We all have heard about people being in exile. But this book tells us what it actually feels being in an exile. People might not understand a few things or a few decisions taken by Nasrin but that is exactly what it is. The underlying conflict, the emotions and the turmoil that she goes through. Before I started reading the book, I was confined to bed for only one day being sick but as this book progressed, I couldn’t help but feel for the woman who has been living in such conditions in a safe house with captors she knows nothing about, forced to literally leave the country when all she wanted was fresh air.

There were many heart touching parts of the book but what caught me was her part in the safe house when she mentions that there were a bed of ants that made her bed a makeshift house, crawling in and out but none bit her even once. It was, she felt, that they had accepted her more than the world could ever have. I am biased. Yes. Probably, a person not from Kolkata would be the best person to talk about the book but being a girl from Kolkata, how could I not? Ever since I have been reading the book I have been having discussions with friends. Some, who support the banishment, while some, who don’t. Speaking of me, to the person who don’t, I have been supporting it and to the ones who support, I have been not supporting it. Why, if you ask? Because wherever she is, I want her to be safe and I support the rights of literature.

The poems that are there in the book touch you and so do the excerpts of the diary. You might not support things that happened and there are possibilities that you will not get the answers to your questions through the book but being a reader, or above all, being a person, this memoir is a detail into the mind and surroundings of a writer, who was exiled for an indefinite time because she wrote, you should read. As a reader, this book reads super fine in the first half but there’s a portion where there are mainly diary entries which read stretchy in a book to some extent. Having read quite a few memoirs, I expected a bit more material to it. Rating this book would be tough because there are many points that as a person I could not agree to but keeping me as a person aside, as a reader, this book is 4.25 out of 5.

PS- This book was given to me as a part of the Flipkart Book Reviews Programme.

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