Imet Suranjan quite unexpectedly. He rang the bell one day at my Rawdon Street flat, and I opened the door to find an unknown young man. Make an appointment on the phone. I shut the door in his face.

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Imet Suranjan quite unexpectedly. He rang the bell one day at my Rawdon Street flat, and I opened the door to find an unknown young man. Make an appointment on the phone. I shut the door in his face. Open the door, I need to talk to you. Suranjan Dutta. The name seemed familiar, but not the face. Maybe I would recognise him if I took another look at his face — it was with this thought that I opened the door and surveyed him from head to toe.

One moment it was like I had seen him before, and the very next, no, this was the first time. I trembled. This was probably how it would feel if I found someone I knew to be dead walking up to me. As I was doing now, gazing at Suranjan, who alternated between looking at me and lowering his eyes and scratching his cheek. Yes, scratching his cheek. I remember, because he had a large mole, and every time his nails grazed it, I felt the mole would come off. Thinking of the mole made me stop trembling.

I had been apprehensive about moles for several years now. When I was young, I used to yearn for a mole on my face, no matter how small; I would even draw one just above my lips, a little to the right, with a kohl pencil.

But now the sight of a mole anywhere terrified me. I opened the door fully, inviting the stranger in. I had opened the door myself today, but usually it was Sujata who did it. Completely unknown people had often marched past the policemen into the house while they napped, their guns on the floor. Did Suranjan seem jittery at the sight of the policemen? So it seemed. His face was pale. I asked him to come in, which meant passing between the sitting policemen and me.

This made him hesitate, and led to some additional scratching of the mole. His second step was more hesitant than his first, and the third, even more so.

The fourth, however, brought him to the door, from where he shot inside. The door closed behind Suranjan, and he sat down on the sofa. Asking Sujata for some tea, I sat down opposite him, in response to which he lowered his eyes again. It occurred to me that the heart is a strange thing, and it appeared to me that I had heard Suranjan say this.

What if it was someone else claiming to be Suranjan, here with nefarious motives? It was time to exchange how-are-yous. But I jumped to my feet before we could get there and opened the front door again — not wide — and left it ajar. If the person claiming to be Suranjan had evil intentions, this would remind him that a pair of policemen was stationed outside and would rush in to rescue me from an assassin if I so much as whimpered.

It would also give him the opportunity to reflect on the usually macabre outcome for a terrorist or a criminal in such circumstances. How had mine gone away from me? One day I suddenly found a bunch of grey strands when I looked at myself in the mirror. Even the other day I had considered myself a girl. When our eyes met, he looked familiar. Had I met him before? Suranjan had nothing to tell me about how he was. What was there to say anyway? It would make more sense if I told him instead how I was, and so on.

And I continued wondering when and where I had met him. Sujata brought the tea, with crackers on the side. Suranjan dunked a cracker into the tea and bit into it. These crackers reminded me of home. Baba would bring something or the other home for us every night, and crackers would always be a part of it.

As a child, I never saw Baba at night without crackers. He brought them without fail, wrapped in brown paper. I wanted other kinds of biscuits — sweet ones, cream biscuits, anything other than crackers. And now, caught in an existence thousands of miles away from that life, it is the cracker that I lovingly pick out from among all kinds of delicious biscuits. I think that was how I had addressed him when I met him. I have forgotten many things over these past years, including everything to do with meeting a young man named Suranjan.

Not even a remote memory about the date or time of the meeting has remained. I was keen to find out what kind of life he led now. He was an honest, sincere, idealistic young man who had been led astray; that was as far as I knew. I felt nothing but pity and sadness for him, just as I do for the Taliban. The difference between them and Suranjan was that they had been offered no alternative to fundamentalism. And, while Suranjan had indeed turned communal, he had had the option of taking a different route.

In fact, he now looked like the idealistic young man he once used to be. Now that I remembered, I felt compassion for him, what we call maya. And that reminded me of Maya. Suranjan must have suffered very much, and his mother, even more so. Instead, I asked where he lived. Why are you here, where have you come from? You wrote a novel about me. You called it Lajja. Suranjan took his time to speak, and his head seemed to droop even further. He had greyed — how old was he now?

I calculated in my head. He was younger than me, though not a great deal younger. I had greyed too. We must have met. How could I have written the novel otherwise? Kajal Debnath is my friend; you knew him too. He told you my story. You met my mother. I got home exactly seven minutes after you left.

I laughed. I corrected myself quickly. An enigmatic smile. A faint reply.


Book Review | Lajja

History teaches us that religion has been one of the most compelling reasons behind many of the great wars, and a consequence of most religious wars is an exodus of natives who have been conquered. Driven away from their motherlands, and living as refugees in another country which they cannot call their own, the immigrants are probably the most affected people in any war. An independence that was earned at the cost of three million Bengali lives, proved that religion could not be the basis of a national identity. Language, culture, and history, on the other hand, were able to create the foundation on which to build a sense of nationality. The sensitivity of the facts and figures provided in the book led to its being banned in Bangladesh; a fatwa was issued against Taslima and a reward was offered for her death. She was forced to leave Bangladesh in and seek refuge in India.


Lajja: Shame | Taslima Nasrin | Book Review

It all happened during December The Muslim fundamentalists of Bangladesh avenged the destruction of the Babri Masjid by attacking the blameless Hindus of Bangladesh, burning their homes, destroying their temples and shrines and raping Hindu women. I had protested this terrible violence in Lajja. Lajja is still banned in Bangladesh.

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