Diary of an exile

Taslima Nasreen just made a public appearance in Delhi four years after she was attacked in Hyderabad. The firebrand writer speaks to Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty about why she will continue to fight

August 29, 2012 07:44 pm | Updated 07:44 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

Her point of view: Taslima Nasreen. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

Her point of view: Taslima Nasreen. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

“It is a difficult life I am living,” says firebrand Bangla writer Taslima Nasreen. Living in exile for 18 years now, after her bestselling novel Lajja caught the ire of fundamentalist forces eventually leading the Bangladesh Government to banish her out of the country. After moving from one European country to another for 10 years, she finally landed up in West Bengal, where, she could “get a taste of home.”

Not for ever though. After the attack on her at the Hyderabad Press Club in 2007, Taslima had to leave West Bengal. In fact, she says, “India Government suggested I leave the country”. She returned in 2008 though.

Now in Delhi, she made a public appearance just the other day, four years after the Hyderabad attack. It was to launch the Hindi translation of her Bengali poems titled Mujhe Dena Aur Prem . Though Taslima says she does not avoid meeting people in Delhi, her publisher is more keen on email interviews rather than face-to-face interactions, presumably to avoid disclosing her exact location in the city. Here, Taslima tells The Hindu Metro Plus reader why she continues her fight. Excerpts:

How is life in Delhi? How often do you make public appearances? Do you feel lonely in your fight against free speech?

After a long struggle, I am allowed to live in India. But West Bengal is still forbidden for me. Since the attack in Hyderabad, I do not appear in public in India. After more than four years, I first attended a public meeting in Delhi the other day. I do not get the opportunity to meet people in Delhi. Delhi is not Kolkata. I terribly miss a social life in Delhi.

I want to feel safe in India. I get sympathy, solidarity and love from the people who believe in freedom of expression and women’s rights.

I often travel on invitation of Western organisations to give lectures on human rights, women’s rights, secularism, humanism, etc. Sometimes I feel lonely in the fight for freedom of expression in the Indian subcontinent. I have no right to live in Bangladesh and West Bengal, the lands where fellow Bengalis live. I am not only banished from those lands, I am also blacklisted. Publishers do not dare to print my books and editors of newspapers and magazines do not have the courage to publish my articles. So I have started writing blogs in English, my second language. ( >http://freethoughtblogs.com/taslima )

Why is your fight important?

The reasons are: first, the insistence of fundamentalists on divine justification for human laws; second, their insistence on the superior authority of faith, as opposed to reason; third, their insistence that the individual is immaterial. Fundamentalists want to put everybody in their straitjacket and dictate what an individual should eat, wear and live. They do not believe in liberty of personal choice or plurality of thought. However, as they are believers in a particular faith, they believe in propagating only their own ideas. They deny others the right to express their views freely, and cannot tolerate anything which they perceive as going against their faith. They proclaim themselves a moral force but their language is hatred and violence.

Humankind is facing an uncertain future; the probability of new kinds of rivalry and conflict looms large, in particular, the conflict between two different ideas — secularism and fundamentalism. I do not agree that the conflict is simply between two religions — Christianity and Islam or Hinduism and Islam or Judaism and Islam. There are fundamentalists in every religious community…

How do you miss Bangladesh, your house there?

My house in Dhaka is has long been occupied by people I do not have contact with. After my parents’ death, my relatives have changed completely. To them, I am dead. They did not let me have anything that I inherited.

I do not know how I would feel if I ever get the permission to live in my country. Many times I felt that I was living in exile in my own country. Now, I believe that I have a home, which consists of a family of people – men as well as women – who bravely oppose the forces of darkness and ignorance. The hearts of people are my home and my country, my safe haven, my refuge.

Tell us about your new book translated into Hindi?

Mujhe Dena Aur Prem (Vani Prakashan) is a book of my select poems. The translator has chosen the poems written on mostly on love and freedom. Love should not be used as a shackle. Love should rather set you free.

I am happy that finally my publisher has found one in Prayag Shukla, a Hindi poet. Those who translated my books in Hindi earlier knew Hindi language. But knowing the language is not enough. In the past, writers translated the works of other writers. Nowadays, we hardly see this phenomenon. Take French poet Charles Baudelaire who translated Edgar Allen Poe, leading some bilinguals to prefer Baudelaire over Poe. Ezra Pound edited Eliot’s “The Waste land”, the work that got him the 1948 Nobel Prize in literature. Or, Edward FitzGerald who translated the “Rubaiyat” of Omar Khayyam. Yeats worked on Tagore’s translation and drew Westerners’ attention that helped Tagore to get the Nobel.

Some filmmakers wanted to make films on your novels and also on your cat. What happened?

No filmmaker in West Bengal is allowed to make a film based on my novel or on my life or on my cat’s life. My book launch in the Kolkata Book Fair last year was cancelled by the Government. I am a social and political outlaw. But I can assure you, come what may, I will never be silenced. I will continue my fight for justice and equality until my death.

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