The longing to return to Kolkata is clear in Taslima Nasrin’s voice the moment you mention the city to her. Her association with the city goes back a long time, she says. The Bangladeshi author, who has been living in exile since 1994, says that she doesn’t like to divide the two Bengals. For her it’s one. But which country does she now think of as her homeland? “Wherever people love me it becomes my motherland,” says Taslima, whose autobiography’s seventh part, Nirbasan, has been translated into English by Maharghya Chakraborty and named Exile: A Memoir. It chronicles Nasrin’s struggles in India over a period of seven months. Talking about the precarious India-Pakistan relationship today, the author says that this war-like situation is not limited to the subcontinent. “It’s the same all over the world. All countries should take action against terrorism, but there shouldn’t be any fear-mongering.”
In a candid chat with HT City, the author talks about politics, books, Kolkata and her life.
What is a normal day like for you?
Every day is different, but the first thing I need after waking up is tea. A lot of Darjeeling tea. These days I am also having green tea. I pick up my laptop and start checking mails while sipping tea. I start replying to mails, use social media (Twitter and Facebook) etc. I write my columns after breakfast. I like cooking fish for lunch and vegetables. I go out most evenings. I like listening to classical music and dance. I don’t miss classical dance and music festivals and art exhibitions. I also go to eat at restaurants and meet friends. I have a cat. I like to take care of her food, especially fish. I also love theatre and used to watch plays when I was in Bangladesh and then Kolkata. But there are not too many Bengali plays here (New Delhi), so whenever a Bengali play is staged here, I watch it.
What are your hobbies?
I love watching films. I have a good collection of about 2,500 films. I go to a multiplex to watch a film only when it’s a very good movie. I watch Hindi films only if they get good reviews. Watching theatre is also a hobby.
You left Kolkata in 2007. Left was in power when you left Bengal. Now, the Trinamool Congress is in power. Do you think you can ever come back to Kolkata?
Considering the current situation, I don’t think I can come back. The previous government (Left) didn’t allow me to live in Kolkata. They banned my books. When the new government came to power, I hoped to return. This government, too. is acting in the same manner. They too are banning my books. It shows that this government doesn’t want me to return.
If you are ever allowed to come back to Kolkata, where will you go for a walk alone?
College Street area. A writer will always want to keep going back to College Street. The first thing I will eat will be sweets… KC Das’ rasogolla and Sen Mahasay’s sandesh. I will eat at Bhojohori Manna. There’s a guy who makes great pan at College Street. I will visit him and also go to Coffee House with friends and my publisher. There are too many things that I want to do. Kolkata was my city. I never divide the two Bengals, so Kolkata was never a foreign land to me. Bangladesh didn’t let me stay nor did Bengal. The irony is that I write in Bengali and love Bengal.
You have been in exile for around 22 years now (left Bangladesh in 1994). Have you ever tried to imagine what the next 22 years will be like?
If I live that long I would love to go back to Bangladesh and Bengal. But I don’t really see the slightest chance of that happening. Looking at the rot in politics, I don’t see that happening. But even after this, if I can stay in the Indian subcontinent I will be happy. If they don’t end up killing me (there are many death threats she explains) I will keep writing the way I am doing right now.
Your views on the ban on Pakistani artistes? Whenever there are issues, artistes are the first to get banned.
I have seen this in my life. It’s nothing new that art and culture will be attacked. You have to value freedom of expression. I am for freedom of expression. I don’t think any artiste should be banned. An artiste can neither be blamed for what the government of his or her country is doing nor can they be blamed for terrorism. Artistes don’t have a country. It’s beyond geographical boundaries. These artistes simply happen to belong to Pakistan. They shouldn’t be punished for no fault of theirs. I have been banned for no fault of mine, so I don’t want anyone else to face the same.
Of late, there has been a lot of simmering tension between the common man in West Bengal and Bangladesh. Earlier, this tension was between the commoners in India and Pakistan?
This has been created by politicians. After the creation of Bangladesh, most politicians have resorted to anti-India politics. If there is a small country next to a bigger country this happens. Instead of encouraging development, Bangladeshi politicians keep talking about how India is a threat to them. People have been hearing this for long. How do you expect these people to react? These people are the victims of Bangladesh’s bad politics. But this doesn’t work on people who understand this type of politics.
Watch the trailer of Bengali film Nirbashito, which is based on Taslima Nasrin’s life:
Has anyone approached you to turn your books into films?
A lot of filmmakers from Kolkata have come. They wanted to adapt Nimontron, Shodh, Forashi Premik and a few other books. They have even got contracts signed and paid an advance, but after returning to Kolkata no one ever has managed to make the film.
Do you watch Bangladeshi films? Which recent film did you like?
I don’t keep any tab on Bangladeshi cinema. I think Bangladesh doesn’t make good films. I do watch some Bengali films. Recently, I have liked Shoojit Sircar’s films. I liked Madras Cafe. I haven’t managed to watch Pink, but I will watch it. I last saw Oliver Stone’s Snowden and really liked it.
Tell us about your upcoming books.
I have written 43 books. This book, Exile, is a translation of Nirbasan. I have written seven parts of my autobiography and now the publishers want me to write the eighth book. I have also written another novel Brommoputrer Pare. But no one reviews my books. They think I am blacklisted.