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Two decades of a Mistresspiece

Two decades of a Mistresspiece
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Roughly 21 years back, a younger Nasreen had written, ‘In the name of religion, there has been bloodshed, disturbance and persecution.’ It was then, in 1993, that her celebrated novel Lajja was first published in Bengali.

Bangladesh banned it soon after, condemning her to an exile that she has been fighting ever since. It’s been 20 years of Lajja, and Nasreen’s struggle for survival – literary, political, womanly. Marking the 20th anniversary of this seminal text, a fresh translation into English has been published by Penguin recently. Nasreen, who lives in South Delhi and often spends her evenings buying fish from Chittaranjan Park, couldn’t be happier. Her visa has been recently extended by the Indian government for another year. It’s a permanent battle as far as her domicile is concerned, but she’s not afraid to wage it. Bengal is out of bounds: fanatics want her head. But in the relative secular seclusion of South Delhi, Nasreen drowns her sorrows in a late night peg, snuggling along her cat Minoo.

Lajja came right in the heels of Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya. On 6 December 1992, RSS karsevaks brought down the 500-year-old mosque in the contested Ram Janmabhoomi, and the shadow of that historic tragedy fell on neighbouring Bangladesh. Lajja charted how the raging fire of communal anger swept through Dhaka as a Hindu family bore the brunt of the manic event.

Translated by activist-turned-writer Anchita Ghatak, the new edition comes with updates. ‘This is like a documentary novel. There are fictional characters but is based on facts. Lajja has been a bestseller for a very long time. It has been published and translated in almost all Indian languages and also many foreign languages like French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, etc,’ Nasreen was heard saying at the book launch. She has been dubbed ‘anti-Islamic’ by fringe lunatics of Bangladesh, particularly those hobnobbing with the Khaleda Zia-led Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamaat.

She wears it as a badge of honour, flaunting her atheism while declaring compassion for those in Gaza, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan and of course Bangladesh.  She says her support was for the late Maqbool Fida Hussain, who was compelled to spend his last days in Qatar. She openly bats for Iranian bloggers who took on the neurotic Ahmedinejad.  Her other works such as Dwikhondito, Amar Meyebela, among others have been subjects of controversy. But her quips are often littered with seething irony: ‘If you don’t hurt people’s sentiments, you don’t need freedom of expression.’

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