While she is happy that the English translation of the third part of her autobiography Split: A Life is out, Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasrin is anguished at the way the names of people mentioned in the book have been shortened to alphabets to hide their identity. In a freewheeling interview to Sreeparna Chakrabarty, she talks of how she feels closest to home in India, how she feels safer in this country due to its ‘entrenched’ democracy and how she can write only here, and not in Europe, where she had lived in exile for many years. Excerpts:
Your book is a translation of the original version Dwikhondito, which was in Bengali. What is the difference between the two texts? And why did you feel the need for the book to come out in English?
What I had written in Bengali then had been translated into various languages. There was nothing like I felt the need to write it in English. It had been asked for by many translators in Malayalam, Odia, Hindi and Marathi. But nobody had asked for it in English.
The difference between the texts in these regional languages and the one in English is that the names of people have been shortened (to alphabets). I don’t understand why. The Bengali version had all the names.
In the Bengali version, some pages had been omitted – where certain things had been written against Islam. But in none of the regional versions, including Bengali, have the names been shortened.
Maybe they (publishers) did so because of the Nawazuddin Siddique episode, where the book had to be recalled. But for an author it feels bad. Maybe in future people will be known by numbers instead of names. This feels like the science fiction movies that I keep watching. I am totally against any kind of banning or censorship. We can only connect to names, not alphabets. May be the times are bad. They may have thought about defamation… This is not due to the fear of any fanatics.
However, at least the book has come out now and it can be read by people. Maybe people will be able to connect with the book without the names as well. But if you change the names like this out of fear, what will happen to the author and the readers?
As far as the text is concerned, it has been translated in full, but they have omitted some chapters, even though the high court had lifted the ban (earlier imposed) on them in West Bengal. Once, when I was living in a safe house, I had been pressured that I could return to West Bengal if I omitted those passages. I had agreed, thinking I would be allowed to go back to West Bengal. But later I realised that it doesn’t help, it is just politics. I had then told the publisher to reinstate the text. But they did not agree.
You had been asked to leave West Bengal when the Left Front government was in power. Have you made any effort to go back now?
I have written to the current West Bengal government, but there has been no response. Most journals in the state have stopped taking my writings. In West Bengal, almost no publisher takes my writings. I have been virtually blacked out.
Do you find any difference between India and Bangladesh?
I feel at home here. (When living in Europe) I used to come to Kolkata thinking I am going to my place or country. Though I was born after the Partition, I find the division of the country on the basis of religion childish. Everything is the same. The language is the same, culture is the same, therefore the politics of the two countries are also the same. There too books are banned, as they are here… I have faced threats there, and I get them here as well.
However, here the Muslim community is in a minority, but there (in Bangladesh) it is in a majority. Over here, you have Muslim and Hindu fanatics, but despite that this country is much safer as democracy is far more entrenched, and has been for a long time. Here fundamentalists are not given that much importance. There are also some checks and balances, and so I feel much safer here.
Nowadays I feel even Europe is not safe. The Europe of today is not as safe as Europe of the 1990s. But even if India is not as safe as Europe, it is much safer than Bangladesh.
So you feel at home here?
I feel at home here. It is important for one to feel at home, which I feel in India. Though I don’t have a home, this country is like my home. So I can write much more here than I could in Europe. I write about the women of this region as their culture is the same, their history is the same and their stories are the same. The oppression they face is more or less the same. I get responses from my readers, that’s something which is very important thing for a writer. That’s why it is important for me to live here.
Have you seen any difference between the India of then and now?
I would say that what I have observed is that in India people tend to be more religious and superstitious, compared to countries like Bangladesh, Iraq or Saudi Arabia, where more people tend to become atheists. There is a tendency in these countries. But in India, perhaps because of the choices available in Hinduism, there is no need for people to turn atheist. Even if there are (atheists), the proportion is very small. But there has been a rise in fundamentalism in Hinduism.
What is the period which this book covers. Is there a sequel?
This is the third of a seven-part series of my autobiography. This is that time in the 1980s when there were atrocities on Hindus when Islam was being made a state religion. When fundamentalists were gaining ground … when there would be rallies against me.
The next book in the series is Those Dark Days, which chronicles the long march against me in Bangladesh. That will be the fourth part of my autobiography. I have written seven in all.