Taslima Nasreen

Photography: Sharad Shrivastav

Taslima Nasreen A Portrait of an Artist as a Woman

As one reads James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the emancipation of the artist from the ideological clutches of society feels like an empowering liberation for the reader as well. I felt a similar surge of inspiration and awe while I was interviewing eminent writer, Taslima Nasreen. Her story is testament to why the written word is revolutionary. Even after her novel Lajja (Shame) led to her suffering a number of physical and other attacks — and eventual exile — for her critical scrutiny of Islam and her demand for women's equality, Taslima never stopped fighting for justice through her writing. 

With the recent release of the English translation of her sequel to Lajja called Shameless, readers will see her unabashed and subversive writing come to life once again. Her narrative, exploring the lives of the protagonists of Lajja, after they flee from Bangladesh to India, in hope of a better life, slowly gets subsumed by Taslima’s feminism. Presenting an exclusive excerpt from my interview with the author:

What propelled you to write the sequel to Lajja through Shameless?
After I moved to Kolkata in 2004 and sometime in 2006, I realised that since the Dutta family also moves to Kolkata by the end of Lajja, I could write about it now because I know Kolkata and I can imagine how their lives would turn out here. 

“There is no country for girls or women. I believe that country means safety, if I don’t feel secure in my country, then it is not my country.”

There are many thematic concerns at play in the book, ranging from migration, religious fanaticism to toxic masculinity and sexual politics. What for you was the main driving force while you were writing the book?
I think one of the most important issues was the lives of the women after moving from one country to another. You find that it is more or less the same. A girl could be raped in East Bengal and a girl can be raped in West Bengal as well. Another thing I show is that Maya, the daughter of the family, is raped by Muslims in Bangladesh and she is raped by Hindus in Kolkata. So a Hindu country is safe for Hindu girls is a myth. There is no country for girls or women. I believe that country means safety, if I don’t feel secure in my country, then it is not my country. More or less, the patriarchy, the misogyny, the communalism, is same for them even in this country.
This book is not really a political book. It is very personal and social. The end is very feminist.

What is the biggest challenge that you faced while writing the book? 
The biggest challenge was the rape scene. The question that kept bothering me was whether I should write about it or not. I thought that, if it is a reality, if it actually happens in the society, then I would write about it. Ultimately, I did not write clearly about it and left it as a question mark. Did it happen and who did it? It depends on the reader to make their own conclusions. I had to really think a lot while phrasing it.
Also whenever I have described rape, cruelty and brutality, some people always call it pornographic. I have a book titled Nimantran, in which I showed that a very young girl falls in love with a boy who ultimately, with his seven friends, rapes her brutally. When I described the brutality, everyone except the intellectual readers, started commenting that I write about sex, but it was about rape, it was about the torture. They don’t see it as torture, they see it as sex. So, when I was writing about the rape in Shameless, I was writing about torture and I don’t care what people call it.

What do you wish for your readers to take away from this book?
I was trying to show that nobody is perfectly good or bad. A person is made of both. It is not fixed that a certain person is hateful and bad. Sometimes that person is also good. This can be applied to more or less everyone. I tried to show the reality of human nature. No character is ideal. Everybody has faults and they have some niceties also. I want readers to think about this complexity of human nature. 

To read the entire interview, buy a copy of our Print Issue of May - September 2020, to be available on digital platforms soon.

Text Nidhi Verma