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Fishing for trouble

Taslima Nasreen writes to titillate, to create a furore. She does it deliberately. Sunil Gangopadhyay, in New Delhi the other day, reveals all this and more to SURESH KOHLI.

Sunil Gangopadhay... Taslima Nasreen is no innocent writer.

TASLIMA NASREEN, the persona non grata of Bangladesh, the hitherto darling of West Bengal, has done it again. The sensational third part of her autobiography, "Dwikhandita" ("Split into Two"), which rocked Dhaka by her exposure of some leading writers who had sexually exploited her, has also been banned in West Bengal, though altogether different reasons. These exposures in "Ka", the Dhaka edition, with details of sexual encounters caught the famous Bangladeshi writers on the wrong foot, threatening their social and domestic lives. They denied everything, branded Nasreen as a sensation monger and got the book proscribed.

It transpires that the Kolkata edition dwells on the sex life of Prophet Mohammed, virtually portraying him as an exploiter of women under the religious sanction of polygamy. This prompted the intellectuals of West Bengal to recommend the banning which was promptly done by the Government. The first two volumes of her autobiography, "Amar Meyebela" ("My Girlhood Days") and Utal Haowa ("Stormy Wind") were also controversial in the sense that she did not spare her parents and relatives too and showed how sexual and religious corruption are deep rooted in the Muslim social and family lives. Reportedly the fourth volume will deal with the treatment meted out to her in West Bengal. A prospect that's already disturbing the sleep of many of the stalwarts who knew her intimately. Sunil Gangopadhyay, the reigning deity of Bengali literature, not excluded. His response:

"There are several reasons for the controversy. In this part she has written explicitly about her affairs with several leading Bangladesh writers, including some who are living in Calcutta. She has threatened to write another volume where she will be writing about her friends in Calcutta. I am not bothered about what she has written about other peoples' sex life. I am not apprehensive about what she will write about me. I like this lady. I have known her since she used to write poetry, and would come to me. I also liked her other writings, especially her first book, `Collected Columns' that contained her newspaper writings. Very daring, and the language was lucid, straightforward and for the first-time a woman was writing about male domination, as her own experience.

"She writes in first person. I enjoyed what she wrote about the sex life of some eminent people but what bothered me were a few pages about Islam in a derogatory manner. One can criticise and intellectually write about religion but one must know the situation because you cannot always expect similar response. People can be very sensitive, and their responses can be very violent. I was scared because it was published in Calcutta during Ramzan, and Id was round the corner. And the Muslims were very scared about this book. So I was afraid that any moment there could be a flare up, and I felt she should have resisted writing about religion, and the Prophet in that fashion. Then I learnt these portions had been deleted in the Bangladesh edition. So I said she ought to have deleted those pages from the West Bengal edition also. I don't care about other things she has written."

Gangopadhay believes, "It was a personal matter though I thought it was in bad taste. One should ignore it, and if someone is hurt, he or she can go to the court. But I did not demand a ban. When it was banned the Chief Minister of West Bengal public ally said that he had consulted 25 Bengali intellectuals from all over the country, and after he himself read the book he decided to ban it. When it was banned I was not even in Calcutta. I was not in favour of banning this book. I am against the banning of books. I only said she should have deleted those pages."

He reveals, Taslima who is forced to reside in other countries, is always hankering to come back. "In many of her writings one feels she is actually weeping. She is a typical rice-eating Bengali who could not adjust with her life in foreign countries. So she is forced to be in exile, which is a pity, and I feel sorry for her but if she would like to have any impression on her readership then she should write something worthwhile. But she tried. She had a good command over the language but she is not a creative writer. She cannot write short stories and novels. So she writes this kind of prose where at some point of time she must shock people or create controversy. She does these things deliberately. She loves it. If she had remained in the mainstream of Bengali literature she would have had to struggle hard to be bracketed with other successful writers. She has only written about women's liberation, which is a cliché, and titillating sex."

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