Poetry in the city.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The Delhi Walla arranged to meet poet and author Taslima Nasreen at her home in Delhi.
It’s 20 years since the Bengali author was made to leave her country Bangladesh following blasphemy charges and death threats. Thousands of people regularly marched in Dhaka in 1994 demanding her execution for allegedly insulting Islam in her writings.
Today, the 52-year-old writer is the resident of a leafy neighbourhood of our city.
Living in the capital since 2011, Ms Nasreen’s life seems uneventful on the surface. She buys books at the Oxford bookstore in Connaught Place and shops for fresh fish at the Bengali-dominated Chittaranjan Park. With her country refusing to renew her passport, Ms Nasreen, who was granted a Swedish citizenship, has lived in a succession of cities in Europe and the US. She also had a long stint in her beloved Calcutta.
Ms Nasreen’s life, however, remains under threat, even in Delhi. Armed security men sit outside her home. Inside, you may be watched over by her white cat Minu. Hers is a small flat. The walls are decked with the certificates of various awards Ms Nasreen has received over the years. The balcony has pink bougainvilleas in bloom. The drawing room is filled with thousands of books (Ms Nasreen’s library is spread across three continents). The shelf has a Tagore portrait, and books by feminist writers Eve Ensler and Germaine Greer take prominent place.
One sticker says, “There is no freedom of religion without freedom from religion.”
Ms Nasreen, who laughs easily, says, “I wrote this poem a few years ago. It’s titled ‘You Go Girl!’ I think it is very relevant to our times.”
The exiled author shares the poem with us.
You Go Girl!
They said—take it easy…
They said—sit down….
Said—bow your head…
Said—keep on cryin’, let the tears roll…
What should you do in response?
You should stand up now
Should stand right up
Hold your back straight
Hold your head high…
You should speak
Speak your mind
Speak it loudly
You should scream so loud that they must run for cover.
They will say—’You are shameless!’
When you hear that, just laugh…
They will say— ‘You have a loose character!’
When you hear that, just laugh louder…
They will say—’You are rotten!’
So just laugh, laugh even louder…
Hearing you laugh, they will shout,
‘You are a whore!’
When they say that,
just put your hands on your hips,
stand firm and say,
“Yes, yes, I am a whore!”
They will be shocked.
They will stare in disbelief.
They will wait for you to say more, much more…
The men amongst them will turn red and sweat.
The women amongst them will dream to be a whore like you.
A poet’s world