Title: Exile – A Memoir
Author: Taslima Nasrin
No: of Pages:336
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 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. Set against a rising tide of fundamentalism and intolerance, Exile is a moving and shocking chronicle of Taslima Nasrin’s struggles in India over a period of seven months. Dark, provocative and at times surreal, it will resonate powerfully with readers in the present socio-political scenario.
Okay. So I had to wait for two days to read the book upon receiving it. Because, guess what! My husband who generally sleeps off before completing the first page of any book, wanted to read this one. Thankfully, he gave me the book on time and thus started my journey with Exile – A Memoir.
I had read before in newspapers and articles, of the many snippets from her rather shocking and eventful life. Taslima has been in exile since 1994. She has been forbidden in her country Bangladesh and also in two cities of India. Her book was banned as well.
Exile is a shocking account of all that has happened during her stay in Kolkata and Hyderabad, India. She was filled with high hopes upon reaching Kolkata. One of her books got translated to Telugu and the organizers appealed her to join the book release event. It is this one decision of attending the event, that caused the change of her fate. A mob had rushed in and she 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. She had clearly rubbed the wrong side of people and got herself into a deep mess.
The book has three main parts:
a. The first-person narrative where she describes about the events that has happened in her life during the exile.
b. Set of Poems: The chapter ‘Death Waits Past the Window‘ is a rather painful and touchy section. Here she writes about the days of house arrest and reminiscing over the bloody and horrifying mob scene which keeps playing in her head. The senior police officials had tried to scare her and the result was this exceptionally crafted poems. The chapter “Poems from a Safe House” is also another section of the book which proves Taslima’s poetic prowess. She never felt safe and she lets the reader know how she felt threatened as her phones were tapped; How helpless she felt, trying to reach-out to everyone she knew of, to get out of the safe house; How she didn’t have the freedom to go somewhere on her own or meet someone of her own accord.
c. Diary Entries: The rest of the book, which is the major chunk, classified as ‘Excerpts from a Diary‘. She lets out her frustration related to the two countries- India and Bangladesh, her friends, her religion (Islam), the politicians, her ‘so-called well-wishers’ and men. She explains how politics wins over basic human feelings and how friends and acquaintance fail to stand up in times of distress.
There is nothing new about this book if you know of her life events. There are no revelations or some smash to smithereens information. But this is a memoir and reading the events first-hand is different in itself.
You may not back the events, you may be bored of reading the diary entries, but the book is definitely going to stir your heart. It would change your opinion and views about freedom and religion. I salute the woman that she is, for being a survivor, for holding her head high and firmly believing in the stance that she took.
Special mention to Maharghya Chakraborthy for the translation.
4 on 5