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What if you could interact with the protagonist of a story you have written, one that has unresolved issues? Shameless by Taslima Nasreen attempts to do just that.
‘Everyone will say you’re shameless.’
Taslima Nasreen’s latest, Shameless, is a sequel to Lajja and revolves around the lives of the same central characters – Suranjan, Kiranmayee, Maya – as well as a few additional ones related to them – primarily Zulekha and Sobhaan. Along with them is the author, living in the same city of Calcutta, but under different pretext, conditions and reasons. The story tells not only of how they have fared after immigrating across the border, how they have survived, but also how, despite the atrocities they have endured in the past, the known and the new characters have managed to grow and build a life, shedding the skin of what society defined as shame and accepting their own strengths, their own voices.
In Lajja, after being persecuted for being Hindus in Bangladesh in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolishment in India, the Dutta family had to leave their home and their homeland behind, and migrate across the border to look for a safe abode. Years have gone by since then.
Politically driven and factual as Lajja had been, describing how the country failing its citizens had been a thing of shame, Shameless is instead about its people, about their internal conflicts and their inner voices. The shame they feel is personal, imprinted deeper by their surroundings, and it is this they get to outgrow in the course of the novel. To reconcile with the past and shape up a better future.
I was surprised how quickly I finished reading Shameless. I’m a slow reader, slowest in my friend circle and my sister circle (sister line? It’s just the two of us), and slower still when it’s in e-book format (I know, way to keep up with the moving technology!). But once I started, the eyes could not scan the words quicker.
To give real personalities to originally fictional characters is a tricky thing to do, especially with the added character of the author herself. But it is a welcome idea, and executed in a way that draws you in, makes you turn the page (real or digital).
Shameless is a book of thoughts, reflections and musings. It is more the exploration of how each person has accepted or cursed at the fate they had to choose at the end of Lajja, and how well or badly they took their stories being told to the world and the reactions thereafter.
That the book, while becoming a bestseller, did nothing to improve their condition or struggles stung some of them the most. That the book, despite being critically acclaimed, drove its author into exile concerned and worried the others most. That the author knew the ins and outs of their lives, even if they might not agree with the fictional portrayals or were not the same anymore, made them feel she was the closest to them, and sometimes hated her for it.
The emotions run deep and complex, but the real surprise is the story that’s unfolding underneath the camouflage of catching up with the familiar personalities. It happens and unrolls so subtly, it takes you a while to realize what the central story of the book has been all along. The familiarity was a mask to get past and see the real face – not of the people, but of the book itself.
The people, even though oblivious of each other’s motivations and having their own conclusions ingrained in their minds, are straight-forward to the readers of their intentions. Brutally honest. As though revealing their thoughts to a confidante, their deepest, strangest and darkest thoughts.
The fictional persona of the author struggles to understand and accept the Suranjan Dutta she meets as compared to the one written in the pages of her novel. She is surprised at the changes in his personality and his beliefs, at the decisions he makes which she is convinced he would never do, given how things ended in Lajja.
More than once, when she enquires about his life, he questions her back, ‘Why do you ask? Do you want to write a story?’
There’s lengths of prose and the pacing is hardly fast or engaging. Ruminations last for pages on end, sometimes lost in bouts of nostalgia such that the smell of their homeland cuisine even envelops the reader at times and brings to mind their own favourite food preparations from home.
At last, a fair amount of the praise also belongs to the translator, Arunava Sinha, who has not left much space for the “lost in translation” feeling to set in. If nothing else, you at times feel this whole book was written in English itself.
If you would like to pick up a copy of Shameless by Taslima Nasreen, use our affiliate links at Amazon India, and at Amazon US.
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Clumsy. Awkward. Straight-forward. A writer, in progress. A pencil sketch artist by hobby.
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