Title: Split: A life
Author: Taslima Nasrin (translated by Maharghya Chakraborty)
Publishers: Penguin Random House
Price: Rs. 599
“I did not want to answer any questions because I had no answers to give.”
As a school-going child in Calcutta, as it was called then, I remember seeing a lady on the news being awarded the prestigious Ananda Puraskar for her literary pursuits followed soon after by her books being banned, and it left me with a clutch of questions for my parents. They had a hard time explaining to me that when the powers-that-be are not in favour of your point-of-view, this scenario was quite common. Her searing pair of questioning eyes in that outwardly calm face is an indelible chapter of my childhood memories. It’s small wonder that she, Taslima Nasrin, is described as a memoirist among her other titles. And also that she never stopped questioning, with her eyes or with her pen.
(In)Famous more for her resolute criticism of religious fundamentalism and women dis-empowerment at the hands of religion than her powerful writing on human or women’s rights, she finds few sympathisers in today’s intolerant world. Her stubborn stance had led to the Bengali original of this book called Dwikhanditho (roughly translated as split into two) — one in her erstwhile seven-part autobiography series — being banned in both sides of Bengal and led to her eventual banishment too. In fact, the rescinding of the injunction was conditional to her expunging critical portions of the book and is eternally marked early on in the tome, page 53 to be precise, with a blank page brandishing a tiny paragraph announcing, “Note: …Despite the injunction being revoked, persistent concerns over renewed communal tensions have forced the author to excise the section from further Bengali publications and leave a blank page in its stead.”
This part of her autobiography series deals with her growing-up years in Mymensingh before migrating to Dhaka to work at a hospital as a physician but it is hardly a boring recital of her endless days at work. The volume speaks of her desires and loves, marriages and split-ups, her books, poems and newspaper columns, the vulgarities women have to face when perceived as easy instead of enlightened, her love for her father and his violent outbursts towards the womenfolk of her house, and many many more issues. Her raw emotions of love, lust, happiness, fear, anger, betrayal, all come through with a rare authenticity that deserves a salute and seems ageless even today some 15 years after the book was first penned.
The (ill) treatment she faces at the hand of every significant male person in her life and the residual bitterness is heart-rending to say the least. Her concerns concerning the subjugation of women and the fringe-dwellers (say, the religious minorities) under the guise of religion and societal mores is as evocative today as it was then and her championing the cause of equality is as relentless and relevant as ever. Her award-winning Lajja (Shame) had ably expounded what it is to be a woman and a Hindu at a certain time in Bangladesh many years ago.
Coming to the cons, I see no point in trying to shield people in your life by using only their initials in an autobiography. It is very confusing to the readers, to say the least, and also shears off some of the importance of the parts these characters played in her life. I also have a huge issue with the absence of any chronological organisation in the material. There are jarring jump-cuts for me from one incident to the other, one episode to the next and not necessarily in any order, with no with-your-say at all. In either case, the readers are left to fend for themselves in placing the events and happenings in context.
In spite of all shortcomings, and the strong sense of gloomy undercurrent running through the book, Split, is an important read. This tome will hold up the fact again that her prose can be called controversial only in the fact that it tackles upfront matters that are easily swept under the carpets, namely communal tensions and gender politics, and how integrated they are to our mundane life whether or not we choose to acknowledge them. While Lajja was a mirror to a certain period of the nation and Nirbashito (Exile) is more contemporary in the sense it portrays her life-as-it-is after being shunted out of her beloved lands since the 1990s, Split is more all-encompassing, in the sense, it takes a lot of issues that continue to haunt our societies by the horns and call them out for the bull that they are.