Taslima Nasrinís Ka: A Cry Against a Book
Published on July 31, 2005
The third volume of her autobiography has also been banned in Bangladesh, as it happened to the first and the second volumes. This time the court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, the well-known literary figure Syed Shamsul Huq. He filed a lawsuit of five hundred thousand dollars against Taslima Nasrin since she wrote an episode in which Mr. Huq was involved. Though I believe, this volume, Ka, would have eventually been banned by the present government as the other two volumes, since Ms. Nasrin criticized both the Islamic fundamentalist and Islam itself, but Mr. Huq served an important roll for the government.
Not only Mr. Huq, but many other poets and writers from Bangladesh and India have also been criticizing the book. They are upset because Ms. Nasrin widely explored on her private life where some of the writers were involved in it. A poet, novelist and the Professor of the Bangla Department at Dhaka University, Dr. Humaun Azad said, "I did not read the book. I heard Taslima criticized me a lot, but she could not include me in her sex life, since I never responded her." Dikondito (Bisected), the Indian edition of the book, has also been banned and seized by the police from bookshops in West Bengal, since another lawsuit was filed there by a young poet with whom Taslima mentioned to have sexual relationship. One of the writers, Shamoresh Mojumder, even called her "a whore" in a newspaper interview and compared her with a prostitute, Nandibala, of Sonagachhi. Sunil Gangopadhay, poet and novelist who visits the US at least twice a year, said, "The book would upset Muslim people here." About his previous relation with Taslima, he assured his readers by saying, "I am not afraid of Taslima, because I had no sexual relation with her." It reminds me of President Clintonís statement about Monica though I still believe that it was not a big deal. Any way, the feminist writer Taslima again became a hot issue in Bengal. Newspapers and magazines are publishing commentaries about the book; people are talking about it in the street corners and in the tea parties, and the Bengali tabloids from New York City are reprinting various chapters of the book without asking permission either from the writer or from the publisher. Some are commenting on it without even reading what Taslima actually wrote in the book, some are commenting on it by grabbing the knowledge from the tabloids, and a few who have read the book are saying that itís well written. Such a shopkeeper in Astoria told me that he read the book in three consecutive nights and he liked it. He also talked about an episode how a young man burned his cigarette on Taslimaís hand and how she kept silent thinking that the society would blame her instead for being involved with a man. While talking with the shopkeeper, a gentleman who was enjoying our conversation, asked me, "Since you are a writer too, tell me how much of her sex life she expresses is true." I replied, "It is her life and she wrote about it. I believe all of it is true." The questioner got a little upset, "So you believe all the writers are like this!" "Like what?" I said. "They seek for womenís beauty whenever they get a chance!" "Well, it depends on the writer. But she did not mention all the writers of the country. She only mentioned the ones she was aquatinted with. Moreover, I believe she did not dishonor anyone, not even Mr. Huq. She actually disappointed the fundamentalists which Mr. Huq, Dr. Azad and Mr. Gangopadhay ignored, though, I know, all three of them are fighting against fundamentalism." The man was not happy with the answer and the shopkeeper asked me to stop the conversation and leave the store, since more of his customers were getting interested on the topic. While all of this is happening I could see the Muslim fundamentalists of Bangladesh who once offered 50,000 taka for her head and the Hindu fundamentalists of India, who used one of her books, Lajja (Shame) during the election campaign, are the ones being happy.
In her book, Ka, Taslima Nasrin showed how a freedom-seeking-woman, even educated like her, would struggle in every step of her life. Not only her own, she also mapped out the sufferings of all the women as a whole, and dug her pen into the root of problems. As a physician in Bangladesh, she experienced how the poor women of the villages were brought to the hospital for ligation for only a sari and a 100 taka (less than 2 dollars), even though many of them did not want to do it at the young age. She says, only the very old men of the society, who donít even need it, come for vasectomy. Since women have no say in any part of their lives, they do whatever the men want.
In the mid-eighties, while I was a student of the University of Dhaka, I first read Taslimaís work in a weekly magazine, Khaborer Kagoj, which I used to subscribe. I immediately noticed that she was exploring the horrible lives of many women of the country. She did not forget to criticize the religion for the fact that it gave women a very marginal role in the society. Islam says, "A womanís heaven is beneath her husbandís feet." Even if her husband tortures her, she would have no right to say anything. "If you are busy cooking in the kitchen, and your husband wants to have sex, you must respond to fulfill his wish." This is also the part of the religious teaching. Well, when this is the Ďrule,í the country provides a sister one half of what a brother would get of the parental property. Moreover, women are widely discouraged to go to school. It is widely understood that they are born to cook and bear children. Also, a man can marry up to four women, but a woman does not even have the right to choose her own husband. The family would decide her marital fate. While this was the case, Ms. Nasrinís writing was getting a lot of attention. People wanted to stop her voice. Many tabloids started making stories about her private life. She married three times and got divorced because, as she wrote in the book, those men wanted to control her. She wanted to do things on her own, but none of them allowed her to do so. She says even her father, who was also a physician, did not like her doing things on her own. After she got divorced from her first husband, a poet and an addict, she married the editor of the weekly Khoborer Kagoj. But soon after their wedding, the editor did not show much interest in publishing her work. He started giving her advice on what to write and what not to write. He even started to control her movement, which Taslima did not like. So one day she went to the court and ended her second marriage. She asked her publisher to look for an apartment. But no homeowner wanted to rent out the apartments to a single woman, as women must live with men. Finally she got an apartment promising that she would stay with her mother. She was working in a hospital nearby. Her father lived in her city of birth, Maymonshingh. One evening while her mother was away in Maymonshingh, her father came to her apartment with her older brother. She was surprised on their surprising visit. They surprised her even more; they neither ate diner nor went to sleep. They spent the whole night sitting in chairs. She did not know what was the matter with them. In the morning when she was about to go to work, her father stopped her and said, "You have to go with us. You donít have to go to hospital." She said, "But patients would be waiting for me. I have to go to work." Her father immediately pushed her down to the floor and kicked her in the stomach. She was stunned on the situation. While she managed to stand up, she got another push and a kick in the back. She fell on the refrigerator and cut her lips. Her brother, who was standing by, threw a tabloid on her face. "Look, what they wrote about you! This is what you do here!" yelled her father. This was a fundamentalist paper. Since she was criticizing them, they finally wanted to illuminate her private life to the public with exaggerations. Her father read it and got upset. It obviously hurt his prestige too. So he immediately came to rescue it.
She was forced to go the Maymonshingh and was locked in a room, where she was given food and a portable commode to respond to the natural call. One morning while her mother brought breakfast in, there was a sudden noise in the kitchen. She ran back to the kitchen, thinking of something bad done by the housemaid. Since she was rushing she forgot to lock the room. So, Taslima got a chance. She ran, ran and ran out of the house. She took a detour to get to the Dhaka City, so that when her father would know that she fled, he would not be able to catch her. The local bus took almost 10 hours to get to Dhaka instead of usual 4 hours. At 11 in the night, standing in the bus station, she did not know what to do and where to go. Her father gave up the apartment she rented, and her furniture was taken to Maymonshingh. So, she even did not have a place to sleep. Luckily she remembered the phone number of a friend, who was also the editor of a weekly magazine. She told her situation and asked if she could stay with his family for the night. The guy gave her a ride home and a bed in their living room to sleep, where she stayed a couple of days. She got her job back and married the guy. She did not actually wanted to marry the man, as she mentioned, but she had no where to stay and the editor said if she had to stay in his house she had to marry him. He mentioned that he was under pressure from the family. Once she got married she started to know the editor a little better. He was coming home late and drunk, started to beat her up, pushed her out of the door and locked it from inside. She spent many nights with the landlordís wife. On one night, while thrown out of the apartment and staying with the landlady, Taslima thought it was enough. She decided not to stay with a man anymore, no matter how much the society would blame her. She said to the landlady, "If you could get them out of the house I would rent it for me instead." She moved to a hotel for the time being. Since she had already made a soft side with the landlady, the landlady managed his husband to get the editor and his family out of the apartment, and Taslima rented it. Besides her life, in this biographical novel, she discussed about the womenís problems in the society, the political unrest and the religious suppression. The socioeconomic situation and the uprising of the Muslim fundamentalism were also been illustrated. She wrote, "Religion is such a destroyer, even if you donít believe in it, you are bounded by itÖ. It is almost like a kind of cancer that has no medicine."
At times, the government seized her passport and asked her to get the governmentís approval if she had to publish anything. She said she never heard of that kind of rule before. The authority replied that every government employee had to go through the censorship. So she quit the Hospital job and became a full time writer. But very soon, the Mullahs declared 50,000 taka for her head. They accused her of writing against Muhammad and Koran. The government first overlooked the Mullahs demand and refused to give her any security. There were rallies against her in every city demanding her death sentence. They called her a murdat --apostate. She was continuously being threatened for live over the phone. She wrote, "I was staying at home holding my life in hand." Well, she was right. One day, there was a knock at her door. A couple of guys were knocking and kicking at the door and shouting to open it. She wrote, "My young housemaid and I went to the writing room and hid. I felt death was walking towards me. I imagined they broke the main door and come to me with a long sword. Two of them held my hands and the other two my legs. One held my head a little aside while another, with the sword, slicing it off my body to give it to the Mullahs for 50,000 taka to save Islam. Sweat dropped down from my whole body. I felt sleepy. Yes, I did fall in asleep. When I woke up I saw they were gone." After the incident, she went to the court for security. The judge said, "Why wonít they ask for your head if you write against Islam?" But the judge ordered two police met in front of her apartment.
The story went on. The Mullahs numbered her days. Each day passed, she thought it was an extension for her. The International Writers Groups, PEN, and the Amnesty International kept on pressuring the government for her safety. Finally, her passport was given back to her and she was thrown out to Europe in 1994. She is now living in the United States, where she is doing a fellowship at Harvard on the possibility of secularism in the Islamic countries.
The book is heartbreaking, horrifying, disputable, and extremely moving. It shows if an educated woman like her had to go through so much problems for independence and writing about woman, then how the sufferings of the general villagers, ninety percent of whom are illiterate, would actually be. The writer did not fear to criticize the government, the Mullahs, the political situation, the rajakersóthe collaborators of 1971 who are now in power. She also wrote about the good and bad sides of the well-known writers of Bangladesh and West Bengal. But I did not experience any literary dishonesty. Taslima illustrated the darkness of the society. Probably, this is why the book was banned in both Bangladesh and India. Itís a shame.
The banning of the book made some Bengali booksellers happy here in the New York City. They are selling Ka for 20 dollars, which is only a four dollars in Bangladesh. One of the storekeepers from Jackson Heights happily mentioned that he would sell about 500 copies. He imported the Indian edition. "I was lucky. If the shipment from India was delayed for only a day, I would not be able to get the book," he added. I asked, "How much are you selling it for? Twenty?" He protested, "No, No. Itís the Indian edition. Itís for twenty-five." He was smiling, though he used a slang against Ms. Nasrinís character a few minutes earlier. He sold thirty copies in two days. 2003
HassanAl Abdullah is a poet. Author of 9 books including 6 collections of poetry. He is the editor of a bilingual poetry journal, Shabdaguchha. Mr. Abdullah teaches math and computer for the New York City High School. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org