Lajja by Taslima Nasreen

Babri Masjid demolition, under whatever justifications, is undoubtedly the single greatest failure of our democracy and secularism. While it spiked communal unrest in India, immediate butterfly effect was visible somewhere else, someplace that shares the same secular values, at Bangladesh.

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Nasreen claims to have written this novel over a week of religious unrest, which escalated into demolition of century old temples and violence against minority Hindus, in retaliation to what happenings in India. Like every other riot in the history, religious hatred and violent oppression were inflicted by and towards friends and colleagues who were, dear ones till yesterday. Lajja tells the story of a Hindu family, torn between their love towards lush green motherland they and their ancestors fought Independence for, and the choice of escape to India for the safety of their lives. Protagonist himself isn’t a practicing Hindu, in-fact he is shown as someone who identifies himself more in the company of his muslim friends. But the circumstances, silent State comply on violence, second status in his own country on grounds of an ideology he doesn’t necessarily upheld, gradually contaminate his rational thoughts with anger, frustration and eventual hatred towards muslims, which he almost succumbs to.

79578631-they-can-destroy-babri-masjid..-but-they-cant-destroy-our-imaanAuthor craft-fully establishes the intricate differences between religion and culture, for one find him or herself comfortable around people from same language and practices than the single ideology of religion, which in-turn paid a great deal in liberation of East Pakistan as Bangladesh in 1971. But secularism in the new found nation was a grey line, or it became one over time, with the declaration of Islam as state religion and rapid islamisization of institutions. Through the thoughts and words of the hero, she subtly addressees the politics of language, how the streets and institutions were renamed, and how the ones that retained their old hindu names were reduced to acronyms.

Nasreen uses the characters as reader’s surrogates for understanding the minority population decline and migration to India, on grounds of secularism. Those who left the country to escape prosecution found their properties acquired by State under the pretext of ‘Enemy Property Act’. She subtly references through human relationships, oppression of weak, nepotism, religious fascism and much more with statistical figures, discussion of which would be rendition with spoilers. It is easy to understand this book getting banned, for her active criticisms against Awami League, BJP, RSS and other communal political coalitions on their vote mongering hate politics, is very visible.
Lajja wasn’t an easy read, all of this, but it offered a great deal about human consciousness and how easily are we blinded by religion. I don’t think she was writing against Islam, but against the usage of religion as a sorry excuse for masking morality, peace and love, all of which every religion essentially stands for.

And the scariest part is, the relevance this book still holds, even after a decade of pogrom, in a world we proudly call modern.

Folklore of Kerala by Kavalam Narayana Panikkar

The element of fascination this book can offer depends greatly on the reader and what he or she is looking for; for the writing is mostly scholarly, and devoid of any gimmicks intended to act as incentives.

KN Panicker captures the coastal beauty of present State of Kerala, from her historical and cultural roots. Starting from the geographical location, mythologies associated with Western Ghats and mentions of the land in ithihasas like Mahabharata to the works of ancient Chinese, Arabic, Babylonian texts. This book gives a pretty good account of the diaspora and its cultural interbreeding via international trade and non violent advent of abrahmic religions, as early as their inception. From there on, Panikkar uses these infos as preface for explaining the land’s myth, mythology and traditions that extends to present day. This approach, in my opinion really help readers to understand the present day religious socio-economic state of land better.

As an illustration, I would like to mention book’s take on Kalaripayattu, ancient martial arts form ingenious to the land in origin and practice. It is very rational to have this explained using skirmishes, wars and competitions. But, he links its faculty of postures and style of movements with Kathakali, a complex temple art form that demands extreme discipline of mind and body to perform( to watch also, atleast for me ). He in turn uses Kalari to elucidate Kerala’s oral literature through Vadakkan Pattukal, ever fascinating warrior stories. And further encores in social system by explaining the practice of same by every communities as opposed to the orthodox martial reservation with Kshatriyas.

What it suffers from, is the modulation losses in translation of nouns, phrases, parables and literature from vernaculars. It felt really weird to read about ‘Krishnagatha‘ or ‘Chavitunatakam‘ or even the melodious ‘Omana Thinkal Kidavo‘ in English. If you are from Kerala or are interested in its religions, customs, festivals, oral literature, music and theater; this book acts as a wonderful introduction.

Paraphrasing Panikkar himself, to those who entertain a nostalgic love for bygone folk culture, amidst rapid urbanization, India can offer a long and continuous living tradition with a sense of balance between down to earth materialism and high spiritualism. And this book, even in its text-book-y narratives, does a good job in capturing the South Western strip of the peninsula in all its might.