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Bitter, Taslima stays afloat
Taslima in her Rawdon Street apartment. Swar Abritti, a cultural organisation, had invited the author to its silver jubilee celebrations in West Midnapore scheduled to be held on Saturday. However, the administration banned the programme. The organisation has now decided to hold the event 15 days later but without the author. Picture by Amit Datta

Calcutta, April 30: Time is running out for Taslima Nasreen. Her visa expired on February 28. She has to leave for Europe in mid-May. 'I have applied for a renewal. If I do not get it before I leave, who knows if I will be granted a tourist visa to re-enter India'

Seated in the Rawdon Street apartment that she calls home, at least for the next two weeks, the Bangladeshi author looks far more composed than a woman with her shelter in peril. Perhaps for someone who has had a death threat for company, living with trouble is second nature. 'I can stay on during the application term. But I can't afford to grow roots.'

On May 26, she is to get an honorary doctorate from the American University of Paris, France, while in June, she collects the Grand Prix International Condorcet-Aron 2005 at the Parliament of Belgium. The return route is uncertain.

Reports that there has been no pressure on Delhi from the Bengal government to get her Indian citizenship have left Taslima caustic. She pulls out a file of paper clippings and turns to 2003.

'When my book Dwikhondito was banned, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said he took the decision on the advice of 25 intellectuals. Perhaps this time he has spoken to a few more people. What can be said if a chief minister does not have an opinion of his own' A wry smile curls her lips.

The disillusionment has deepened over the months. 'All I wanted was to live here and write. The Leftists speak of equality. So I thought this would be the place for me.'

She turns to pages from the past to piece together her predicament. 'When I was expelled from Bangladesh, sheltering me was an act of glory. But when Lajja was published, I fell foul of the same Leftists who defend the minority, are liberal intellectuals and preach secularism'. They said it was an attack on the minority,' the author says.

'But in their stupidity, they failed to see that in the country where the book is set Muslims are in the majority and are the oppressors. In defending the minority Muslims here, the Leftists have started defending Muslims around the world.'

Taslima is bitter enough to question the motive behind the government action. 'They want to keep the minority here happy. But is it the minority they are pleasing or some Islamic fundamentalists'

In her view, if the Left is really concerned about the problems of the minority, it would have been bothered with their education and economic uplift. Instead, the government is out to appease fundamentalists. So there will be 'more madarsas' and 'banning of books', she warns. 'What difference is there between appeasing Muslim and Hindu fundamentalists'

What if the visa is not renewed' 'Maybe it will be an achievement for them. They will clap their hands in joy at how they managed to oust me from this side of Bengal as well. I will survive, in some corner of the world, as long as my days last,' her voice quivers, for the first time.

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