I am Like the Living Dead

Where am I? I am certain no one will believe me if I say I have no answer to this apparently straightforward question. They may believe what they wish, but the truth is I just do not know.

I don't even know how I am. Sometimes I even appear to forget my own existence. I am like the living dead: benumbed; robbed of the pleasure of existence and experience; unable to move beyond the claustrophobic confines of my room. Day and night, night and day.

Death becomes an intimate. We embrace. Yes, this is how I have been surviving.

This did not begin the other day when I was bundled out of Kolkata. This has been going on for a while. It is like a slow and lingering death, like sipping delicately from a cupful of slow-acting poison that is gradually killing all my faculties.

This is a conspiracy to murder my essence, my being, once so courageous, so brave, so dynamic, so playful. I realise what is going on around me but am utterly helpless, despite my best efforts, to wage a battle on my own behalf.

I am merely a disembodied voice. Those who once stood by me have disappeared into the darkness.

I ask myself: what heinous crime have I committed? Why am I here, in this singularly unenviable position? What sort of life is this where I can neither cross my own threshold nor know the joys of human company?

What crime have I committed that I have to spend my life hidden away, relegated to the shadows? For what crimes am I being punished by this society, this land, this world?

I wrote of my beliefs and my convictions. I used words, not violence, to express my ideas. I did not take recourse to pelting stones or bloodshed to make my point.

Yet, I am considered a criminal. I am being persecuted because it was felt that the right of others to express their opinions was more legitimate than mine.

To disobey the powers that be is to court public crucifixion. Yes, I am a victim of this new crucifixion: is the nation not a witness to my suffering? Does the nation not witness my immense suffering, the death of my hopes, aspirations, and desires?

Does the nation not realise how immense the suffering must be for an individual to renounce her most deeply held beliefs? How humiliated, frightened, and insecure I must have been to allow my words to be censored. Only the expurgation of what they considered offensive satisfied them.

If I had not agreed to their grotesque bowdlerization, I would have been hounded and pursued till I dropped dead. Their politics, their faith, their barbarism, and their diabolical purposes are all intent on sucking the lifeblood out of me.

They will continue till they have bled me dry, expurgated these words, and removed these truths that are so difficult for them to stomach. Words are harmless, truth defenceless and devoid of arms. Truth has always been vanquished by the force of might.

How can I - a powerless and unprotected individual - battle brute force? Come what may, though, I cannot take recourse to untruth.

What have I to offer but love and compassion? I have never wished ill of anybody. Call me romantic, but I dream of a world of harmonious coexistence free from the shackles of hatred and strife. In the way that they used hatred to rip out my words, I would like to use compassion and love to rip the hatred out of them.

Certainly, I am enough of a realist to acknowledge that strife, hatred, cruelty, and barbarism are integral elements of the human condition. This will not change; such is the way of the world.

I am an utterly insignificant creature: how can I change all this? Even if I were to be eradicated or exterminated it would not matter one whit to the world at large. I know all this.

Yet, I had imagined Bengal would be different. I had thought the madness of her people was temporary. I had thought that the Bengal I loved so passionately would never forsake me. She did.

Exiled from Bangladesh, I wandered around the world for many years like a lost orphan. The moment I was given shelter in West Bengal it felt as though all those years of numbing tiredness just melted away. I was able to resume a normal life in a beloved and familiar land.

So long as I survive, I will carry within me the vistas of Bengal, her sunshine, her wet earth, her very essence.

The same Bengal whose sanctuary I once walked a million blood-soaked miles to reach has now turned its back upon me. I find it hard to believe that I am no longer wanted in Bengal. I am a Bengali within and without; I live, breathe, and dream in Bengali but, bizarrely, Bengal offers me no refuge.

I am a guest in this land, I must be careful of what I say. I must do nothing that violates the code of hospitality. I did not come here to hurt anyone's sentiments or feelings.

Arguably, I came here to be hurt. Wounded and hurt in my own country, I suffered slights and injuries in many lands before I reached India, where I knew I would be hurt yet again.

This is, after all, a democratic and secular land where the politics of the vote bank implies that being secular is equated with being pro-Muslim fundamentalists.

I do not wish to believe all this. I do not wish to hear all this. Yet, all around me I read, hear, and see evidence of this. I sometimes wish I could be like those mythical monkeys, oblivious of all that is going on around me.

Death who visits me in many forms now feels like a friend. I feel like talking to him, unburdening myself to him. You must realise I have no one to speak to, no one to unburden myself to.

I have lost my beloved Bengal. The Bengal I cherished, whose land, smells, and sounds, whose very air was a part of me, is gone. I had to leave Bengal. No child torn from its mother's breast could have suffered as much as I did during that painful parting.

Once again, I have lost the mother from whose womb I was born. The pain is no less than the day I lost my biological mother. My mother had always wanted me to return home. That was something I could not do. After settling down in Kolkata, I was able to tell my mother, who by then was a memory within me, that I had indeed returned home. How did it matter which side of an artificial divide I was on?

I do not have the courage to tell my mother that my life now is that of a nomad. How can I tell her that those who had given me shelter saw fit to expel me so unceremoniously? My sensitive mother would be shattered if I were to tell her all this. I choose not to tell her, not even when I am lonely and alone.

Instead, I have now taken to convincing myself that I must have transgressed somewhere, committed some grievous error. Why else would I be in such an unenviable situation?

Is daring to utter the truth a terrible sin in this era of falsehood and deceit? Don't others tell the truth? Surely they do not have to undergo such tribulations? Why do I have to undergo such suffering? Is it because I am a woman? What can be easier than assailing a woman?

I know I have not been condemned by the masses. If their opinion had been sought, I am certain the majority would have wanted me to stay on in Bengal.

But when has a democracy reflected the voice of the masses? A democracy is run by those who hold the reins of power who do exactly what they think fit. An insignificant individual, I must now live life on my own terms and write about what I believe in and hold dear.

It is not my desire to harm, malign, or deceive. I do not lie. I try not to be offensive. I am but a simple writer who neither knows nor understands the dynamics of politics.

The way in which I was turned into a political pawn, however, and treated at the hands of base politicians, beggars belief. For what end you may well ask. A few measly votes. It is I who have suffered. I am the only victim of this great tragedy. The force of fundamentalism, which I have opposed and fought for very many years, has only been strengthened by my tragic defeat.

This is my beloved India, where I have been living and writing on secular humanism, human rights, and emancipation of women. This is also the land where I have had to suffer and pay the price for my most deeply held and fundamental convictions, where not a single political party of any persuasion has spoken out in my favour, where no non-governmental organisation, women's rights or human rights group, has stood by me or condemned the vicious attacks launched upon me.

This is an India I have never before known. Yes, it is true that individuals in a scattered, unorganised manner are fighting for my cause and journalists, writers, and intellectuals have spoken out in my favour.

I do not know whether they are familiar with my work or not, indeed if they have even read a single word I have penned. Yet, I am grateful for their opinions and support.

Wherever individuals gather in groups, they seem to lose their power to speak out. Frankly, this facet of the new India terrifies me. Then again, is this a new India, or even a facet of a new India; or is it the true face of the nation?

I do not know. Since my earliest childhood I have regarded India as a great land and a fearless nation. The land of my dreams: enlightened, strong, progressive, and tolerant.

I want to be proud of that India. I will die a happy person the day I know India has forsaken darkness for light, bigotry for tolerance. I await that day.

I do not know whether I will survive, but India and what she stands for have to survive, must be allowed to survive.

(Taslima Nasreen is a well-known Bangladeshi writer living in exile in India)


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