Wed, Nov 26, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Calcutta bans poet over bawdy sex tales

TOO HONEST An injunction against a Bangladeshi woman author's kiss-and-tell book about other writers has fueled sales and hot disputes in intellectual circles

THE GUARDIAN , NEW DELHI

Sales of the latest autobiographical book by the exiled Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasrin have been blocked after a Calcutta poet complained about the depiction of a three-night-long sexual encounter between the pair.

The Calcutta court injunction comes on the heels of a ban imposed on Nasrin's autobiography in her home country following a defamation suit for one billion taka (?1 million) filed by the Bangladeshi writer Syed Shaul Haque.

Haque complained that he had been "hurt and embarrassed" by references to his purported sexual life in the book.

The third instalment of the 41-year-old Nasrin's autobiography, published under the title Ka (the first consonant of the Bengali alphabet) in Bangladesh and as Dwikhondito (Divided in Two) in India, contains characteristically frank and irreverent writing which has aroused the ire of Islamic fundamentalists and forced her into exile in the west.

But this time it is Nasrin's old defenders, the Bengali literati on both sides of the border, who are angry. "She has written fictitious fantasies about sexual involvement," complained the Calcutta poet S. Hasmat Jalal, one of the literary men depicted in bed in Nasrin's book.

"I was shocked. I was surprised how anyone could write like this. I feel this is invasion of someone's privacy. This is unethical, illegal, immoral," he said.

Haque described as "obnoxious, false and ridiculous" an account in the book of how he took two women to a guest house, got drunk, and threw up the next morning. Nasrin also writes of how she once had to fend off Haque's sexual advances.

Quoting in detail from the book in his defamation suit, Haque charged that Nasrin had "undermined" his reputation as a writer and "embarrassed" him before his family.

The first two parts of Nasrin's autobiography, Amar Meyebela (My Girlhood) and Uttal Hawa (The Untamed Wind), are already banned in Bangladesh because of protests by Islamic fundamentalists, as is her novel Lajja (Shame), an exploration of religious intolerance.

After the publication of Lajja in 1994, Islamic groups put a price on Nasrin's head and she fled to Europe.

After the controversy erupted over Ka earlier this month, Nasrin, who is working at Harvard University on a project on Islam, secularism and women's emancipation, said: "If the book is proscribed because of any pressure by intellectuals there [in Bangladesh], this is cause for them to be indicted, not me."

"People in the subcontinent are not used to plain speaking about sex, especially by women," said the critic Nilanjana Roy.

As a result of the ban, contraband copies of Ka are selling at three times the cover price in Dhaka.

Meanwhile, Bengali is bracing itself for the fourth instalment of Nasrin's autobiography. It is said to be even more of a "kiss and tell" on the author's encounters with Calcutta's literary giants.

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