Sunday, 2 September 2012

C:\Users\TASLIMA NASRIN\Desktop\রাস্তার ছেলে আর কবি-.pdf

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Similarities and differences

There are many who utter the names of Salman Rushdie & Taslima Nasreen truly in the same breath – both in this country and abroad. However, if there are great differences between one individual and the other, this co-vocalization may naturally become a matter of discomfiture. When I am referred to as the ‘Female Rushdie’, these days I ask back, why aren’t you calling Salman Rushdie the ‘Male Nasreen’ instead? What an audacity, isn’t it?
Barring the fatwa, everything else is different between us – I know that very well. Rushdie is a man; I’m a woman. This is a huge dissimilarity. He enjoys certain advantages by virtue of being a man; I, on the other hand, am always at a disadvantage because I am a woman. Let me recount the differences. After the fatwa was declared, Rushdie had begged the fundamentalists for forgiveness, and promised to become a ‘born Muslim’. I never asked for a pardon, nor did I want to become a Muslim. I have been an atheist since childhood – I held my head high to remain one, weathering all tumultuous storms. Rushdie never lived in Iran, the country that brought out the fatwa in his name. In contrast, the country where hundreds of thousands of religious extremists have marched year after year demanding my execution by hanging, the country in which intolerant Muslims went berserk trying to silence me forever, the country which took out an arrest warrant in my name because of a lawsuit filed by the government – because of which I was forced to go into hiding for months on end, the country where the fundamentalists would have torn me apart if they could lay a hand on me – I have been physically present in that country during those harrowing times. I, alone, had to bear the brunt of all the torture meted out by the fundamentalists and the government alike. No one expelled Rushdie from his country as a result of the fatwa; he didn’t have to suffer banishment. England is his country; he has been living there since his childhood, and still does. Rushdie had only a single fatwa against him; there were, against me, three fatwas from Bangladesh, five from India, each with a price on my head. The fatwa issued against Rushdie was withdrawn by Iranian authority long ago. None of the fatwas issued against me had ever been withdrawn. Rushdie never had to budge; I was thrown out of two countries because of my writings. Rushdie had one of his books (The Satanic Verses) banned; I had five – Lajja (Shame), Amar Meyebela (My Girlhood), Utol Haowa (The Tempest), Dwikhondito (The life divided), and Sei Sob Andhokar (All That Darkness). Rushdie mocked prophet in his fiction, but did not use prophet’s real name and location. I criticized all religions and prophets in my non-fiction books using prophet’s real name and location. Prophets in my books are not fictional characters. Rushdie is not associated with any atheist-rationalist-humanist group or Human Rights organization – whereas I am, actively. In his personal life, Rushdie is highly conceited; I am its exact opposite. Rushdie is gallivanting with one young women after another, his playthings many years his junior. His senile pranks are not considered pranks; rather, he is regarded as a strong, virile, bodacious lover-boy – an object of envy to many younger men. In contrast, despite my spending life without a male companion, there is no dearth of people calling me a ‘whore’ or a ‘deviant woman’, and whipping up various sex scandals involving me. Only a man has the right to enjoy a sex life. If a woman does so or talks or writes about women’s equal right to enjoy a sex life, she is labeled a whore. Ever since I started writing, I have received criticism and contempt from people - advocating sexual freedom for women, I am apparently destroying the society. There is another excellent similarity or difference between Rushdie and me. Many of those who consider Rushdie a good writer have not read his books. Many of those who call me a bad writer have not read a word of my writings.
Rushdie’s name has been associated with mine since 1993. Following the fatwa from Iran, Rushdie became a much-discussed and famous name. My name also crossed the boundaries of Bangladesh and India after a price was set on my head. When I was in hiding in Bangladesh, Rushdie was amongst other European authors who wrote an open letter for me. Thereafter, when I was expelled and living in exile, I heard that Rushdie apparently got furious after reading my opinion about him published in Das Spiegel, a German magazine. In that piece, I expressed my disappointment at Rushdie’s begging for forgiveness to mullahs in response to the fatwa, which I thought was decidedly cowardly.
Rushdie now resides in New York City, as do I. But there is no possibility of us meeting. He is the president of the Pen Club, a large organization of authors and poets of America. For a couple of years, the Pen Club has been organizing massive demonstrations in support of freedom of expression. Various authors from Asia and Africa, almost all little known, have been brought over. Salman Rushdie is aware that I have been recently cast out from India; loathsome and incredible attacks have been visited upon my freedom of expression. Almost all of my books have been banned in Bangladesh, either officially or socially. Not just Bangladesh, even West Bengal has thrown me out for my writings. Not only that, I was kept on house arrest in Kolkata and Delhi for a long seven months during the process of banishment. Eventually, I have been ousted from India. Salman Rushdie is celebrating freedom of speech by cunningly ignoring my glowing history. He can do whatever he wants. One of his security guards wrote an unflattering book about him; he made arrangements with publishers so that the book would not see the light of the day. Yes, he is celebrating freedom of speech. He is a man, people think nothing of it when he chases after young women, even at sixty plus. Even if women have complained that Rushdie doesn’t consider them anything more than sex objects, people don’t hate him. This epitome of male chauvinism, this author has garnered immense name and fame; I am glad that I don’t have any similarities with him beyond the fatwa. To be honest, it irritates me no end to have my name joined with his.
Another name is being entangled with mine for the past couple of years. He is Maqbul Fida Hussein, a great artist. His paintings fetch the highest price in India. He is considered by many as India’s top painter. He has recently hurt Hindu religious sentiments by painting Saraswati (the Goddess of Learning) in the nude. Hindus have destroyed his paintings, threatened him, and forced him to leave the country. I believe in one hundred percent freedom of speech of human beings. I firmly believe that Maqbul Fida Hussein should have the freedom of drawing whatever he wants. No one has the right to persecute him for this reason. However, it still makes me uncomfortable if my insignificant name is linked with that of as great an artist as Fida Hussein. Because, despite my insignificance, I hold my principles very dear; I have no favorable disposition towards someone, however world-famous for any reason, whose values don’t measure up to mine. I don’t feel gratified to have my name uttered along with that of such a person. When a controversy has broken out in India over Maqbul Fida Hussein’s painting a nude Saraswati, I have very naturally sided with the freedom of the artist. Since atheists are rare amongst Muslims, I find it heartening to find a Muslim turn secular or atheist. Thereafter, I went through all of Hussein’s paintings minutely, seeking to find if he had ever mocked any religion other than Hinduism, especially his own, Islam. I found zilch. Instead, he has used the word ‘Allah’, written in Arabic, on his canvas with much respect and care. I saw clearly that he had a great faith in and regard for Islam. He did not believe in any religion other than Islam! His painting of Lakshmi and Saraswati in the nude stemmed from his disregard for Hinduism! Would he ever draw Muhammad in the nude? I am certain he won’t. I have no problem drawing naked pictures of gods and goddesses or prophets of any religion. I am equitable in my lack of belief in all religions of the world. Putting one religion over another, hating one and loving or believing in another – I have no such issues. All religions say, your religion is the best and true and correct, your god is the only true god; all other religions are erroneous, all other gods, false! Having been indoctrinated thus, extremists blinded by faith are able to easily attack others who do not belong to their faith. Christian extremists have once wreaked havoc in Europe; even now, they are driven to violence against doctors who help women to have abortion. Hindu extremists have recently been on a rampage in Ayodhya of India, and in Gujarat. Attacks by Muslim extremists time and again have shaken up the world, let alone India. Fida Hussein is similar to those religious individuals, who put faith in their own religion while criticizing others’. I have no reason for any interest in having my name linked with Fida Hussein’s – even though he may be a great tree to my inconsequential twig of grass; because I am an atheist, and he… Not only is he a theist, but he is a theist only in respect of his own god. When it comes to believing in many other gods in the world, he has no faith.
The only similarity that I have with Fida Hussein is that almost around the same time, we both had to leave the country following a barrage of attacks from irrational religionists. This apart, everything else is dissimilar. The prime difference is that his exile was his choice, while mine was not. I was evicted not only from my Kolkata residence, but from India as well. No, those responsible were not some random individuals or groups blinded by faith, but the government. Fida Hussein has houses to stay in foreign lands, I don’t. The Indian government has been trying to repatriate Hussein; I have been barred from entry by both Bangladesh & India governments. After being ousted from India, whenever I have re-entered with the intention of taking up residence, I have been immediately pushed away. Fida Hussein has but mocked one religion; I, discussing women’s rights, castigate the misogynistic thesis of all religions, always making the following points – let there be laws promulgated on the basis of equal rights, let the misogynistic laws and traditions perish. I criticize all religions equitably, not leaving out my family’s religion, Islam.
I don’t have the name, fame and clout of Rushdie or Fida Hussein. However, even then, I don’t want my name associated with theirs in any way. The way I have been tormented for years by religious fanatics and the governments in power, they have not had to face even a fraction of that. The manner in which I am compelled to live abroad, in the darkness of uncertainty, with no place to call home, and to fend for myself in sickness and through insolvency, while carrying on my struggles for my beliefs and principles, is not inconsequential. Rushdie or Hussain never had to encounter such an intolerable situation. My utmost respect for their craft notwithstanding, I think it’s unfair to put in the same bracket as those two men. However people may perceive my incessant struggle for a society free of religion and discrimination, a society with equality and equal rights, those men, regardless of their stature as artists of renown, cannot come even close to my principles.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Poem for Taslima Nasreen

Amelia Walker

Taslima, your image floats acrnoss newspapers and magazines
- Hide quoted text -like smoke from a distant blaze:a sooty whisper, an SOS signal-or the last gasp of a funeral pyre?
- Hide quoted text -
"Don't read that book"* said the man at the café,
"it's all lies and filth about violence and rape".
He wasn't talking about the pages in my hands.
Those pages mentioned rape, among many horrors,but the main thing I read was a story,a story about a young man,an idealistic young man who diednot physically, but within himself,who turned to religion because he'd lost all faith,who burned his books and with them his humanity,who became extremism, became all the things he'd feared.

The young man's father died toowhen he agreed to leave the land that was his life;his mother of slow suffocation,forced to change her name, her style of dress,in brutal silence, unable to muffle out her most basic of desires.
The young man's sister was kidnapped,her physical death presumed, never confirmed,never given a shape, weight nor colour,no date to mark and mourn.
In this sense she was the only one who did not die,but passed into a state of limbo-not gone, just missing-in this death she became more than life; she became hope,the only one the family had. Not gone, just missing: the same lie they whispered about themselves.

The family were called Hindusthough this was not what they called themselves.They called themselves human before all elseand offered the same compliment to those who would not take it.The family could have easily have been called Muslims or Christiansor Jews or Blacks or Women or Men or Un / Educated or Poorbecause it was not a story about any of these thingsbut about extremism: one path given many names by those who tread it.Religion is to faith as flames to a glacier.

Taslima, Kolkata is burning;Buddha-Nero pats his belly and dreams of oil. The heat makes my head heave, my lungs seizeas truth burst open like a Nandigram sunrise.
I choke on the stench of books burning, bodies burning. Meanwhile, empires are built with bricks of charred boneand I wonder, at what temperature does human blood boil?

Now it is you who has been chained up inside names,you who has been kidnapped, severedfrom your land, your language, your life,you who is forced to fight slow suffocation.
You are dangerous, Taslima, so sublimely dangerous,you who have fired not one gun,set not one fire. Those things are triflesin comparison to what you've set alight:all the weapons on earth cannot shoot down an uprising in thought.

Taslima, I was a traveler, choking on the strangenessof this charred city. Starved and disorientated,I drank your words like the purest, coolest water:honest words, brave words, unembellished, unrefined,written not for glory but from throbbing, explosive need.

Let literature be the mother river that floods out all flames of extremism;that nourishes cracked, drought-stricken minds and makes them lush.Let words of all languages be the oceans,
streams and tributaries that join us all over this earth;books, magazines and translations the boats in which we sail to trade not material wealth but culture, philosophies and thought.

Taslima, you are neither missing nor gone:you have written yourself upon me like a tattoo, a life-saving scar.You remind me of what I have not lost, but could,what I have not achieved, but could;remind me I am human, before all else,remind me why I read, why I dream, wake, walk, breathe,why I pick up this pen.

* 'Lajja'


(in solidarity with Taslima Nasrin)

Graceful as a knife, though the opposite of violence;shining, light as silk, though the fabric is plain: a small kiteis trapped in the tree outside my window,arcing, diving through the morning air.

A ragged wren: black gone grey, tangles and tearsit sports not as marks of shame, rather trophiesof how far it has flown – and through what storms!
Ordinary kite, extraordinary kite.

It must have been a child’s toy, seemingly destinedfor parks on sunny weekends, the cupboards otherwise; for clear skies, a charted course, string held taught,no suggestions of grey.

But at some point, somehow, circumstances cutor forced this kite to cut its own string; to jettison the greenof parks and weekends and cupboards; to soar beyondbeyond; to become a sculptor, carving nude forms in the air.

Such a small kite, such infinite sky, yet it danceda dance none had dared dream possible,built its new home on a gust of defiance, romanced cyclones,turned tempests into art.

Painting shapes of pure motion-emotion, arching like flesh,spinning stanzas of idealism like gold from gall, this kite
sewed the severed patches of humanity’s truth into a quiltso hideously beautiful it burned the eye.

Now it is caught again, snagged by branches,yet with what small string it has it keeps on dancing,keeps on daring; even in breezeless moments, it jigglesits head as if to say no, as if to laugh.

It will not stay trapped long, will not wither like the leaves.Any moment, this kite will corkscrew up!up!up!will dance more wildly than ever before,carve its gleaming red stanzas into the pale blue flesh of thought.



A Bengal Tyger Pacing Her Cage

                                                              (for Taslima Nasrin)

“Ring O ye tongues of the world for their woe
Ring out ye voices for Love we don't know
Ring out ye bells of electrical pain
Ring in the conscious of America brain”
                                -Allen Ginsberg, September on Jessore Road

Upon my own free will I enter
a tiger cage with a wild Bengal tyger
who’s been forced out of the wilderness
chased far from her beloved Bangladesh
no longer permitted freedom
to roam within her own native home…

A Bengal tyger pacing her cage…
A Bengal tyger roaring in rage…

She’s a tyger who speaks without trepidation
when bearded outlaws in flip-flops hunt her down…
torches blazing… just for citing Red Rosa quotations….
as if she— alone— had devoured sheep of entire towns!
A tyger who dares protest against gangs of poachers
who work long hours for foreign speculators
helping them to plunder medicinal lotions
from the disease ridden bodies of endangered species
for the profit of their own vainglorious salvation…
Yes, she’s a tyger who mocks the most holy of holies
The most absurd of absurd superstitions!

Roving make-shift bands
of white smock fanatics
wish to string her neck
high upon the scaffold
after ramming the heretic’s
iron pitch fork really deep
into her soft purring jowl—
as if it were still days of old—
like the Christian Inquisition
or else the strange fruit
of Ku Klux Klan lynchings.

Cousins of four messianic flyers—
true believers in a counterfeit Apocalypse
who crash commercial passenger jets
in the NYC Twin Towers and Pentagon—
these cowardly gangs continue to assault
tourists, travelers and workers defenseless—
ordinary people from all the planet’s religions
in what is claimed “an eye for an eye” but
which makes the whole world even blinder—
and who seek to appease their callous conscience
for what is really slaughter indiscriminate
in a pseudonym of blessed martyrdom:
A perversion of Islamic faith from love to hate…

Unreal horrors of bodies in metros exploding …
Now all the world’s cities in fear… quaking:
Paris, Bali, Madrid, London, Kolkata
Baghdad, Kabul, Moscow, Beslan, Casablanca,
Islamabad, Mumbai and Dhaka!!!

“Through learned and laborious years”
these bearded outlaws
(calling themselves “students”)
“set themselves to find
fresh terrors and un-dreamed of fears
to heap upon mankind…”
in Kipling’s prophetic  lines…

Her lustrous eyes straight facing me—
with her shiny coat of orange fur
black stripes crafted like daggers….
this tyger tyger burning bright…
now paces in her homeless plight
in the midst of an urban menagerie—
far away from bleak forests of the night…

But not once did she stretch out her razor sharp claws 
Not once did she reveal her deadly fangs and roar
Not once did she crouch in elephant grass ready to strike…

Eye to eye I hold out my palm gently
with nothing to proffer but lines of poetry …
She requests that I recite Ginsberg verse—
that horrific taxi ride of September 1971—
those millions of helpless souls forlorn
upon Jessore Road hungry, homeless …
those hopeless millions turned to ghost…

Those days of her girlhood when the beaks
of vultures spread the smell of rotten flesh
and the sound of bullets echoed in the restless
fluttering of pigeon wings…

I then remember that Beatle mystic
who pleaded in mantras for America—
as urged by the sitar of Ravi Shankar—
to help  those impoverished and lost:
But the promise of ten million greenbacks
for humanitarian aid and human rights
raised from that concert for Bangladesh:
All screwed up in a struggle with the IRS
over non-profit taxes and copyrights!!!

My own heavy voice bleeding hoarse,
I too ring in the darkest sub-sub-conscious
of America’s schizoid— really bipolar— brain
in hallucinations of parachuting clandestine
behind the northwest frontier lines—
killing outlaws with dum-dum bullets once again…

I envision America’s toy-like cluster bombs gyrating
the Circle and Cross with the Green Crescent clashing
eradicating whole families in the midst of weddings
the collateral damage of high altitude bombings…
The great Eagle- leader of the world’s nations- now balding,
giving free license to techniques of interrogation enhancing….
Swearing vengeance, those bearded outlaws appear returning
with their ghostly women in armored Burkas cowering—
while Indra and Allah seek revenge in brandishing
sabers of radioactive thunderbolts and lightning…

She then toasts to that
spontaneous ad-libbing
with a forbidden glass
of that most revered of Saints,
Vino Veritas…

A Bengal tyger pacing her cage…

A Bengal tyger roaring in rage…

Declared Public Enemy No. 1,
she is banned from her own home
for lecturing upon the writer’s podium
for daring to speak against acid throwers…
for daring to denounce professional liars…
She’s even rejected by officials in New Delhi —
that very hope of Confederal World Democracy—
as a way to divert political attention from land
expropriation and the violent repression
of those poor villagers protesting construction
of a petrochemical complex in Nandigram….

Though fierce and defiantly independent,
it seems incredulous that she— and she alone—
could strike so much trepidation
beneath the skull caps of such flea-bitten spirits
whose ‘mind forged manacles’ have led them
to distort such a noble and tolerant religion
and to make of her such an obsession…

Once again, as Kipling had so shrewdly written, 
The lesson is certainly manifest: The female
Of the species must be deadlier than the male…

It must be true, for far from her beloved Bengal—
and though still held tight in foreign captivity—
it seems so incredible, if not impossible,
that her tiny frame could actually be capable
of striking such dreadful nightmarish fright
into those hearts with hardening arteries.

Her real crime: To critique men in authority
who literally cower at her very sight!!!

A Bengal tyger pacing her cage…
A Bengal tyger roaring in rage…

Yes, a Bengal tygress defiantly tracing her pen:
Yet one more creature, fierce and unrepentant,
not willing to kowtow before a single person…
Now resisting a plot of extinction!!!