By Aminah Sheikh

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“Let Another Name for Religion be Humanism.” It was these words that had lured me, a seventeen-year-old Muslim girl, into buying Lajja from an almost non-functional bookstore in my hometown. I’d got my hands on the book five years after it was published. Back then, I didn’t know much about Taslima Nasrin, except that she was a Bangladeshi Muslim writer, penning some not–so-good things about the community, as overheard during conversations between elders. I recall the day I bought the book, and was wondering if I should hide it. I didn’t. In fact, after reading the book in one sitting, I walked up to my mother and asked, “Why was this book banned? Why was a fatwa issued against her? What wrong did she write?”  My mother’s reply was simple but had a deep impact on me then. She said, “Every individual has an opinion and feels differently. We must be tolerant of others’ views. Allah has given us a mind, we should use it. And never cause any human being harm or drive anyone out of their home.”

Taslima Nasrin was driven out of her home in 1994.

“A Free Bird” was her first poem at the age of 13, Taslima’s first writing ever.  “I wanted to be like a free bird, wanted to fly in the open blue sky,” she fondly recalls, in an email interaction with Kitaab. Her poems were published in literary magazines, followed by her opinion pieces on culture in national newspapers. In the years that followed, her views, expressed through her writings, on women’s rights and criticism of religious fundamentalism in a conservative patriarchal society, made many uncomfortable to the extent they grew intolerant of Taslima’s existence itself.

“Before writing Lajja, I wrote several books. One of them was Nirbacita Kolam, and that book was a turning point. The book consists of my feminist writings,” she adds. The undercurrents in the minds of religious extremists against this very bold writer had already begun to gather steam in Bangladesh and perhaps Lajja was the last straw. In September 1993, a fatwa was issued against her and a reward offered for her death. Taslima’s life as a medical officer was also put on hold. “I had to quit my job as a medical officer at the government hospital because the government wanted me to stop writing books. I was obviously punished for no fault of mine. I got busy with my writings. And gave up being sad for their injustices against me,” she recounts. Although Taslima was born in a Muslim family, she was raised in a secular atmosphere. “It (being secular) was not uncommon in 1960s and 70s Bangladesh. Most of my family members were not practicing Muslims. Some of them were atheists. It was not common during my time for young women to wear hijabs or young men to go to mosques. It is a recent phenomenon after massive Islamisation of Bangladesh,” she explains.

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By Amir Ullah Khan

Vijay Mahajan has been researching neglected markets for over two decades. His first work on this issue pointed out that Africa was rising. The second discussed the 86 per cent solution where the corporate world focuses only on the top 14% of the world and now must look at the rest. Mahajan’s third stated that the Arab World was a large market indeed. His latest that releases this month talks of the rural consumer in ten countries with the largest rural populations, with India leading the pack. The book titled Rise of Rural Consumers in Developing Countries: Harvesting 3 Billion Aspirations discusses the strategies being used to reach 3 billion rural consumers in developing countries, a vibrant, aware and aspirational market yet untapped.

The argument Vijay makes is that it is forward-looking companies and NGOs with a rural DNA that are developing inclusive strategies that take them beyond developed country markets and urban centres into a vast space that holds tremendous potential. This is not really the Bottom of the Pyramid model that CK Prahalad has pointed out. There it was the poorest level in the income hierarchy that was targeted. Here Mahajan talks of the rural, which includes people with high disposable incomes and huge unmet demands.

The rural top ten countries are India, China, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Egypt and Philippines. The United States actually comes ninth in this list with a 60 million rural population but is excluded for obvious reasons. The GDP of these ten countries chosen comes to 15 trillion dollars with a large informal economy that thrives and does not get reflected in these GDP calculations. The rural are migrating to cities, but even then, by 2050, rural areas will contain more than a third of the world population.

By Syeda Samara Mortada

OliveOlive Witch by Abeer Y Hoque, is a personal journey and one of self-reflection. To start off, the description of Nsukka, a suburb in Nigeria and its landscape, from the green fields that Abeer and her sister Simi run through, to their daily life routine is too poetic and visionary not to be true to the word of Abeer’s actual childhood. However, the sudden shift of the story from narrative to (medical) report style writing, on many occasions jolts the reader, and makes them curious about the end result of the story.

Is it the lead character, Abeer herself who is admitted to a mental asylum? When we learn at one point that Abeer tries to commit suicide, that seems like a plausible option. But what demands praise is the neat way in which her story ties to that of her old friend Nneka, (whom she wonders about at certain points in the novel) and how she commits suicide; the life of these two girls who were once school friends in Nigeria is shown in juxtaposition, and even though both go through a period of crisis, one gets a second chance in life while the other does not.

by Sophia  Ali Pandeya

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©Kitaab

Dhaka, East Pakistan, 1970

Even now, after all these years have passed, rivers, all rivers, hold a certain fascination and dread for her. Back then before rivers of blood had been shed, when there was not even a ruby blood drop, not even the tiniest nipple dot to prick the endless flow of a day, it was Nubia herself who was the river.

Theirs was the last house at the phallic tip of the cantonment cul-de-sac, lined with rows of colonial era brick and limestone bungalows. Beyond their back garden lay the great glimmering eye of the lake, Moti Jheel, where Nubia was forbidden to go by herself. Under Ayah’s watchful eye, she would play for hours with Anmol in their garden full of banana trees, where the siblings would go goose-stepping round and round the lawn, “Left right! Left right! Pajama dheela, topi tight! Aagey husband peechay wife!” until they collapsed in dizzy heaps of giggles on the grass. When she got up, Nubia was thirsty. She stuck her tongue out and caught the drip of recent rain from the glistening elephant ear banana leaves in whose lap sat fat yellow fingers of fruit plush with beckoning. Ayah mashing up the bananas, putting salt, pepper and sugar in them. The butter-yellow disks sweating until they swam in their own spiced up juice. Banana chaat was yet another one of Ayah’s delicious creations. There is nothing, however, that Ayah could do to milk to make it palatable to Nubia’s six-year-old tongue.

“Every morning she throws the milk down the sink when I’m not looking! Begum Sahib I strained this milk with muslin twice and she still didn’t drink! Ayyo! My bones are too old for this. Look at Anmol Baba. Every day he drinks down two glasses of milk. Gut gut gut. Drinks it down. See how fair he is? You will be as black as coal if you don’t drink milk and then no one will marry you!”

By Zafar Anjum

Salil Tripathi
Salil Tripathi

Salil Tripathi was born in Bombay, India, and lives in London. He is a contributing editor at Mint and at Caravan in India. In the UK, he was board member of English PEN from 2009 to 2013, and co-chaired PEN’s Writers-at-Risk Committee. In May 2015, he received the Red Ink award from the Mumbai Press Club for human rights journalism. In November 2011, he won a Bastiat Award in New York, and in 1994 in Hong Kong, he received a Citibank Pan Asia Journalism Awards for economic journalism. Salil has written for major newspapers around the world.

He studied at the New Era School and later Sydenham College at the University of Bombay. In 1985 he obtained his Masters in Business Administration from the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth College in the United States. His books include Offence: The Hindu Case (Seagull, 2009), The Colonel Who Would Not Repent: The Bangladesh War and its Unquiet Legacy (Aleph Book Company, 2014, and Yale University Press, 2016), and Detours: Songs of the Open Road (Westland, 2015). He is working on a book about Gujaratis. He has written several papers in academic journals and contributed chapters in books about business and human rights.

Initially, we approached him for a Lounge Chair interview where we ask ten questions. But this interview took on a life of its own and became a longer piece. So, we decided to run it as a Kitaab interview. Here it is:

Why do you write?

I write because I like telling stories. If you ask the girls and boys who went to school with me of their oldest memories of me, they will probably tell you how I would tell stories to the class during times when a teacher was absent, when coursework was complete and there was spare–free–time, or on days when it rained outside and we weren’t able to go to the grounds to play. There was one particular story which I began in my fifth grade and completed it sometime at the end of the seventh grade. No I don’t remember much of it, except that it dealt with an androgynous James Bond who sometimes fooled villains by calling himself “Maria Rosenberg”. Alas, I don’t remember much else!

But more seriously, I want to make sense of the world around us, and write about it clearly and simply, to understand the story, and to tell the story to others. If in the process it changes people’s minds, that would be great.