‘India has a strong constitution, and the freedom it allows will prevail’
Author Taslima Nasreen on her love-hate relationship with the country and her latest book, the much awaited follow-up to Lajja, ShamelessUpdated: May 04, 2020 01:11 IST
It has been almost three decades since author Taslima Nasreen published Lajja, a novel that’d go on the become the most definitive moment in her life as well as her literary career. Since its publication, although accolades kept coming, her life, however, took a tumultuous turn. Lajja, set in Bangladesh painted a painful portrait of destruction of communal harmony in Bangladesh through the eyes of a family, that gets caught in the storm.
Now, through her latest novel Shameless, we meet this very family again after they fled to Kolkata. “I wrote it when I was in Kolkata in 2007,” says the author, the reason being, in her words, “when one is in house arrest, there isn’t much to do. I was not allowed to go outside; I was not allowed to meet people”. Excerpts from an interview
How are you spending time these days, in quarantine?
I was forced to go into hiding when I was living in Bangladesh. I lived under house arrest in Kolkata and then New Delhi. Even when I was in Europe, the security asked me to stay at home in Europe. Moreover, when I was growing up as a girl, I was not allowed to go out in the open. So, in a way, it is not difficult for me to stay at home. But, I try to do things. I spend time with my cat, and since we can’t get fish, she’s having a hard time. But I am using this time to read and write. But I have learnt that in isolation, I do not want to cry and worry. I genuinely want to use this time doing positive things. Thankfully, I am a big cinema lover and I have been watching a lot of good films.
‘I lived under house arrest in Kolkata and in Europe. In a way, it is not difficult for me to stay at home.’
How did the idea of Shameless come about?
I wrote Shameless when I was in house arrest in Kolkata in 2007. I had nothing to do. I was not allowed to go outside; I was not allowed to meet people. At that time, I was thinking about my characters from Lajja, and what had happened to them. I started thinking about their whereabouts and if they were happy...
You’ve always been vocal with your views about what’s happening in India, politically or with regard to literature…
Honestly, I was thrown out a lot. But my love for India and the sub-continent is very strong. I hope I’m not forced to leave India again… I sometimes wonder if people realise how much love I have for India. I have lived in the US, and I was given asylum in European countries numerous times, and normal people would love to live there, but I was always desperate to live in India. Here, I live like any other Indian.
‘Sometimes wonder if people realise how much love I have for India. I have lived in the US, and I was given asylum in European countries numerous times, and normal people would love to live there, but I was always desperate to live in India. Here, I live like any other Indian.’
India is a very vast country. Bad things happen in every country. In India, it is not the majority that’s doing it. India has a very strong constitution and the freedoms that it allows will always be there. I have always believed that what makes India special is the fact that people of so many religions, ethnicities and languages exist here is perfect harmony. You do not see that in many countries. In European countries, you see a country that speaks three languages, trying to separate itself every day. For instance, in a country like Belgium, it has three official languages – German, French and Dutch - and they’re fighting every day.
Although your relationship with India has been that of love and hate, in equal measures… one would think, compared to how Salman Rushdie was treated by his home country, you were spared that magnitude of outrage…
I feel Salman Rushdie and I and totally different. I write for equal rights for women, and I do not think that it is Salman Rushdie’s concern at all. I respect Salman Rushdie because he is an atheist and he has been critical of Islam and other religions. Not many have the courage to do that. But the difference is that I lived in the countries where the fatwas were issued against me. I have lived right here, seen people out asking others to kill me, I was attacked physically in Hyderabad. That made it even more difficult, and yet, I am here.
We humans used our brain, time, money, energy to make weapons, so that we can kill each other. If we could use the same to improve medical science, we would have developed vaccine for bloody coronavirus by now.— taslima nasreen (@taslimanasreen) April 27, 2020
Have you been able to travel across India at least? Which are your favourite places to visit?
Delhi was never my choice, my choice was Kolkata, where I was not allowed to stay. I love visiting various places, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, are such beautiful places. There’s beauty in every corner of this country because it is so diverse. I try and discover as many places as I can. I would still love to visit Ajanta and Ellora caves. The last time I tried visiting the caves, I was stopped by a political party – you’re one Google search away from knowing who it was – I went to Aurangabad. There, a group of fanatics gathered against me, which was why the police asked me to go back. That was my dream, so, hopefully someday, soon.
I was 29. At my home in Dhaka. pic.twitter.com/bw7fBjX4fq— taslima nasreen (@taslimanasreen) April 19, 2020