"I love Chinese food,” says a celebrity author, while flipping through the menu again and again. Several minutes have passed but it remains the centre of her attention. “She must be quite fussy,” I wonder.
Fame naturally brings in fussiness. She proves me wrong, though. “Everything is so expensive here. Can we get anything cheap and simple?” she asks the waiter. I am shocked. But this is Taslima Nasreen for you.
The interview is slotted for 30 minutes. It’s more than 60 minutes now, and we are still talking. The photographer gets a bit restless. He has another assignment. The noted Bangladeshi author agrees to do the photoshoot and then resume the interview.
Fifteen minutes have passed, and Taslima isn’t back yet. “She loves being photographed,” informs a publisher, “but not during an interview. She thinks her photos don’t come out well when she is talking.”
Taslima is back, all smiling. Maybe the photography has done the trick. Or, maybe that’s what she is - a naturally happy person. Then, why do so many people hate her?
“I don’t know. Maybe I am the ‘unreasonable person’ who ‘persists in trying to adapt the world to’ herself. I believe it has something to do with my unrelenting feminism in an overarching patriarchal setup,” says Nasreen.
She recalls how she was a darling of the Left-liberal intelligentsia after the release of her first two books, Aamar Meyebela (My Girlhood) and Utol Hawa (Restless Wind).
“As long as a woman is oppressed and helpless, as is the case in the two volumes, she is pitied and even liked. But the moment she realises she is not weak, demands that her voice be heard, and breaks absurd taboos to claim responsibility of her own mind and body, as in Dwikhandito (Split), she becomes as outcast and an object of ridicule and hate,” she says.
Taslima quotes Rosa Luxemburg in her latest book, Exile: A Memoir, to say how freedom should be “always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently”.
Ironically, her freedom as a writer has been taken away precisely for the reason that she “thinks differently”. And, worse, it were the Left-liberal intellectuals, some of them she knew very well, who spearheaded the demand for her voice to be curbed - and books banned.
“Apparently, 25 renowned literary figures had petitioned then West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee against my book (Dwikhandito),” she recalls. But what hurt her most was that this agitation was led by foremost Bengali novelist Sunil Gangopadhyay, the man she thought was her friend.
|Twenty-five renowned literary figures had petitioned Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee against Taslima Nasreen’s book Dwikhandito. (Photo credit: India Today)|
“Though I had written nothing against him in Dwikhandito, he must be apprehensive that I might write something in the future to hurt his image. Two, I could never fit in the intellectual milieu of Kolkata which worked on the patron-client relationship among artistes and between artistes and the government,” says the author.
The Buddhadeb regime, citing fears of riots, banned the book. But Nasreen believes the reasons were political rather than communal. “The Left Front was desperate to retain the Muslim votebank, especially in the wake of its Nandigram excesses. It used me as a diversionary tactic, hoping my exile would make Muslims happy.”
Nasreen’s Exile is about her forceful expulsion from West Bengal, the second after the much painful one from Bangladesh in 1994, and anxious days in government safe houses amid scheming babus and ministers.
“The Left Front government in West Bengal told me I would be safe in Rajasthan and once things settle down in Kolkata, I could come back. But when I reached Jaipur, I was told by Rajasthan officials that I was there for a literary festival, about which I had no inkling. To my misfortune, even the Rajasthan government, then headed by a BJP CM, refused to help me and I was packed off to Delhi,” she recalls.
The author says she remains an untouchable for all political parties. “My worldview on gender, religion and even politics is closer to the Left. When the Left intellectuals and politicians disowned me, what grudge can I have with others like Mamata Banerjee who ensures the Bengal ban on me continues?” she asks. Nasreen, however, had hopes with the BJP, which would often quote Lajja to consolidate its Hindu votebank.
“I had met Union home minister Rajnath Singh with a request for a long-term residence permit. He promised he would give me a permit for 50 years but nothing has changed so far,” she says.
Nasreen still remains a pariah. Every six months she has to run after officials to renew her permit. So, does she feel bad about leaving the US citizenship for India’s?
“No. Never! India is my home. I may not get the respect I believe I deserve, but it still remains special for me,” she insists.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)