Our ancestors and we.

They’re our ancestors. Men, women and children had fireside dinner and chat 300,000 years ago. Women were not asked to sit in separate places. I do not think women were forced to eat less or leftovers.

After 300,000 years, in the 21st century, women are secluded in many parts of the world only because they are women. Not only that, they are forced to eat leftovers and they obviously suffer from malnutrition. Some evolutionary biologists may find logic behind it. I do not find any fucking logic to oppress half of the world’s human population. Sometimes civilization is used to destroy equality.

Our ‘sweet’ space!

What a sweet discovery! We humans found sugar molecules floating in the warm gas swaddling a young star called IRAS 16293-2422. Let’s give the young star a sweet name. Carbon (gray), oxygen (red), and hydrogen (white) or carbohydrate or glycoaldehyde or sugar molecules are seen in our sweet space. The young star is about 400 light-years away. We can’t go there right now. But we can think about probability of life on other planets. Glycoaldehyde plays a vital role in the chemical reaction that forms RNA (ribonucleic acid), a crucial biomolecule. Biomolecules form the bodies of all living beings.

We are probably not alone in the universe. Let’s welcome our sweet neighbors.

Secret blood

One day, as I returned from school and began taking my uniform off, I saw that my white salwar had turned red with blood. How? Had I cut myself? But how could I have done that? I wasn’t in pain or anything. So what was wrong with me? In a panic, I asked how I could be bleeding so much? Was I going to die?
Ma was in our kitchen garden, collecting cauliflower. I ran to her, buried my face in her lap, and wailed loudly. “Ma, Ma, there’s a deep cut somewhere. Look,” I pointed below my abdomen, “I’m bleeding!”
Ma stroked my head. “Don’t cry,” she said, wiping my streaming cheeks with a hand and saying, “Get some cotton and Dettol, quickly!”
Ma smiled. “There’s nothing to cry about, I promise. You’ll be all right.”
There was blood spurting out of my body, and yet Ma didn’t seem worried at all. She went back inside with a couple of cauliflower in her hand. For the first time, she made no attempt to grab the bottle of Dettol and dress my wound. On the contrary, she calmly shook the dirt off the cauliflower and said, with a slight smile, “You’re a big girl now. Big girls get this.”
“Get this? What do you mean? Get what?” I asked, looking with considerable disgust at the smile that was still hovering on Ma’s lips.
“All this bleeding. It’s called menstruation. We call it hayez. It happens every month to all grown-up women, even me,” Ma continued to smile.
“And Yasmin as well?” I asked anxiously.
“No, not yet. But it’ll start when she is grown up like you.”
So I grew up one evening, all of a sudden, just like that. Ma said to me, “Remember, you are not a little girl any more. You cannot play or go outside as you used to. You must remain in the house, as all grown women do. And don’t prance around everywhere, learn to sit quietly, don’t go near the men.”
Then she tore off a few strips from an old saree, folded them and passed them to me, together with a cord normally used to hold a salwar in place. When she spoke, she sounded serious. The smile had gone. “Tie this cord tightly round your stomach. Then put these pieces of cloth between your legs, make sure the ends are held in place by the cord. After that, just sit quietly. You’ll bleed for three days, or maybe four or five. Don’t be afraid. It happens to all girls, and it’s perfectly natural. When this pad gets wet, wash it and wear another. But make sure no one sees anything. It’s all quite embarrassing, so you mustn’t speak about it.”
This frightened me all the more. Not only was I going to bleed, but was going to happen every month? Why didn’t it happen to men? Why were only women chosen for this? Why did it have to be me? Was nature as unfair as Allah?
All at once I felt as if I had grown up like Ma and my aunts, that I could no longer sit around and play with my dolls. Now I would have to wear a saree like the adults, cook like them, walk slowly, speak softly. I was an adult myself. It was as if someone had physically pushed me off the playing field, off the squares I had drawn to play hopscotch. I had become a totally different person—not just different, but horrific. In no time at all, what little freedom I enjoyed vanished, like cotton-fluff before a strong wind. Was it a nightmare! Or was it all true, what had happened, what Ma had said! Couldn’t this be just a bad dream! Why couldn’t I just wake up and find that nothing had changed, that all was as before! I wished with all my heart for the whole thing to be no more than an accident, sudden bleeding from some secret injury within my body. This was the first time it had happened, and it would be the last. Please, please, let me be able to return those pieces of cloth to Ma and tell her I’m all right. The nightmare is over.
I banged my head on the wall of the bathroom, but felt no pain. My body had become only a carrier—I carried a bleeding heart within it. Little pebbles of anguish gathered in my heart and grew into a mountain. The torn pieces of cloth were still held in my hands. I was holding my destiny in my hands—a destiny that was mean, unjust, and unfair.
Ma knocked on the door and spoke softly, “Why are you taking so long? What’s wrong? Come on, do as I told you, and come out quickly.”
Why couldn’t Ma at least leave me alone to cry to my heart’s content? Cry with my face covered in my hands, shrinking with pain and fear! I was furious with Ma and everyone else in the house, as if they had all conspired against me. Only I would smell foul. If anyone was heading for disaster, it was I. How was I going to keep this obnoxious event a secret from everyone? How could I walk in front of everybody, knowing that under my salwar was a pad made of torn cloth, drenched with blood? What if people guessed? I hated myself. I spat on myself in revulsion. I was now like a clown in a circus. I was different from everyone else. I was ugly and rotten. Inside my body lay hidden a serious sickness. There was no cure for it.

Was this what growing up amounted to? I noticed that nothing I had thought or felt before had changed. I still enjoyed running across the field to play gollachhut, but Ma’s instructions in this matter were quite clear: “You mustn’t jump or run. You’re not a child any more.” If she found me standing in the field, she snapped, “Come inside at once. I can see men staring at you from their roofs.”
“So what? How does it matter if someone looks at me?” I protested faintly.
“You have grown up. That’s what matters.”
Why was that a problem? I never got a clear-cut answer from Ma. Men from outside my family were quickly banned from my life. Ma got completely absorbed in the business of keeping me out of sight. If any of her brothers came over, accompanied by their friends, Ma pushed me out of the living room. I was slowly becoming both invisible and untouchable.
One day, while looking for a bunch of keys, I happened to touch the Quran. Ma saw this and came running. “Never touch the Quran with an impure body.”
“Impure body? What do you mean?” I asked bitterly.
“You are impure while you are having menstruation. When that happens you are not to touch the book of Allah, or pray namaz.”
I had heard Ma call a dog “unholy” and “impure.” So even women could be that some times? The act of washing one’s hands and feet before praying namaz was supposed to cleanse one of all impurities. Anyone could to it, except women who were menstruating. I felt as if I had been thrown into a pool of stinking, stagnant water. From top to toe, I was immersed in filth. It made me feel vomit. I started hating myself. Every time I had to wash my blood-stained pads, I wanted to throw up. It would have been better if a jinn had possessed me, I thought. But I had to stow my revulsion and pain into a dark recess of my mind, bury it under ground in a secret spot where no one ever set foot.
I feared of standing, feared of walking. At any moment my pad could drop on the floor, and people would right away realize what was going on. I feared that the floor would be flooded with my foul blood. I feared of having listened the laugh of the people. This was my body, my body was insulting me. I shrinked with enormous fear.
Nor was this the end. Something else was causing me further embarrassment. I could no longer take my dress off, even if it was boiling hot in the afternoon. My breasts were growing bigger in size, Sad and depressed, all I could do was lie in my bed.
Three days later, exhausted and devastated by constant bleeding, I was found by Baba as I lay in bed, still as a corpse. He came charging in like a wild buffalo. “What is this? Why are you in bed at this time? Get up, start working. At your desk. Now.”
I pulled myself to my feet and dragged my poor body to my desk. Baba shouted again, “Why are you moving so slowly? Don’t you eat enough? Where’s your strength gone?”
Ma reappeared once more, my savior. She called Baba out and took him to the next room to explain. A few sounds pierced the wall and came through—faint whispers, I couldn’t make out the words. An invisible fire tied to every single word. It burned my ears. The letters in the open book became blurred. Slowly, that fire began to devour my books, my pens, pencils, notebooks, every object on my desk. A wave of heat rose from it and hit my face.
Baba got out from the other room and quietly came back to where I was sitting. I could feel him place something on my shoulder—was it his hand, or his whip? He said, “If you want to rest for a while, do. You can do your lessons later. Go, back to bed. The body needs rest, too. But that doesn’t mean that you should be lazy and sleep all day! You have a lazy brother, don’t you? Noman. He’s never done well because he’s so idle. He is studying psychology! What a subject! Only madman can choose this kind of subject. I have no hopes left.”
Baba pulled me from my chair and put me on the bed. Then he stroked my hair and said, “I have only two children left now, Yasmin and you. You know that, don’t you? You are my only hope, you are all I live for. If I can bring you up properly, see you well settled in life, I will find peace. If you cause me pain and disappointment, I will have no choice but to kill myself. All right, if you are tired, take a few minutes off. Then, when you feel rested, go back to your studies. I have never spared any expense in giving you good food and every comfort. Why? So that you are free to spend all your time on your studies. You are a student. Your only mission should be the earning of knowledge. Then it will be time to work, to earn a living. And, after that, time for retirement. Every phase in your life is run by a set of rules, and there is a particular time for every phase. Do you see?”
Baba’s hard, dry fingers pushed my hair away from my face, tucking it behind my ears. I had noticed him do this before. His idea of caressing me was to remove every strand of hair from my face. He wore his own hair firmly brushed back. He couldn’t bear to see loose strands falling over anyone’s face. Oh! How rough his hand was! I couldn’t believe it. His rough, coarse fingers ran all over my back. It was far from a gentle stroke. I felt as if Baba was removing all the dead skin from my back with a pumice stone!
I simply couldn’t bring myself to accept the situation. Why should I leave my games and sit at home with a long face, just because I had started to menstruate? How I had longed to grow up, grow so tall that I’d be able to reach the bolt on top of the door! I could reach that bolt if I stood on tiptoe, but this business of bleeding put an end to my childhood so quickly and placed such a high barrier between me and the world that it frightened me. When I turned eleven, Ma had made me long salwars that replaced my shorts forever. A year later, after my twelfth birthday, she had said I would have to wear a urna because my legs were now longer and my breasts were getting bigger. If I didn’t hide these behind a urna, people would call me shameless and brazen. No one in our society liked shameless girls. Those who are shy, who behaved modesty found good husbands. Ma hoped fervently that I would succeed in making a good marriage. Mamata, the bookworm in my class, had been married off some time ago. I asked her, “Do you know the man you’re marrying?” Mamata had shaken her head. No, she had never met him. The groom arrived on an elephant. The whole town watched his arrival. He had demanded—and received—an enormous dowry, consisting of 70 grams of gold, 30,000 takas in cash, a radio, and a wristwatch. After the wedding, Mamata, too, rode on the elephant to her new home. From that moment, she would spend her life looking after everyone in her husband’s family. Her studies had come to an end. That man who went about riding an elephant would make sure Mamata’s passion for reading novels was destroyed.
I had hardly come to terms with the idea, and inconvenience, of menstruation, when a supposedly important man in our village turned up one day with a large fish and told Baba that he wanted to see his son married to Baba’s elder daughter. Baba heard these words, returned the fish and promptly pointed at the front gate. He wished to hear not another word, he said. Would the man just leave?
Ma was quite put out by this. “What did you do that for?” she complained. “Don’t you want to get our girls married? Nasreen has grown up. This is the right time for marriage, I think.”
Baba stopped her at once. “I know when my daughter should, or should not, be married. You don’t have to poke your nose into this, all right? She is studying now. One day, she will be a doctor. Not just an M.B.B.S. like me—she’ll be an F.R.C.S. I wish to hear no more about her marriage. Is that clear?”
I pricked my ears and heard these words carefully. Suddenly, all my anger at Baba melted away. I wanted to get up and make him a glass of lemon sherbet. Maybe he was thirsty. But I hadn’t learnt to go anywhere near Baba, or give him anything unless he asked for it. It proved impossible to crash through the barrier imposed by age-old habit.
I noticed Ma was quite excited by my growing up. She bought a black burqa one day and said to me, “Look, I got this for you. Why don’t you try it on?”
My face went red with mortification. “What! You’re asking me to wear a burqa?”
“Yes, most certainly I am. Aren’t you grown up now? A grown woman must wear a burqa,” Ma replied, measuring its length.
“I won’t!” I said firmly.
“Aren’t you a Muslim? Allah Himself has said that all Muslim women should cover themselves and be modest,” Ma spoke gently.
“Yes, Allah may have said that, but I’m not going to wear it.”
“Haven’t you seen Fajli’s daughters? They wear burqas , such good girls. You’re good, too, aren’t you? If you wear a burqa, people will say what a nice girl you are!”
Ma began stroking my back. Normally, a soft, warm touch made me melt, all my defenses broke down. But I wasn’t going to let that happen today. I had to say no. I braced myself to utter that word.
“No!”
“No? You mean you’re really not going to . . .?”
“I already told you, didn’t I?” I replied, quickly moving away from Ma. But she grabbed me and hit my back with the same hand which was stroking me before. “You’ll go to Hell!” she warned, “I am telling you, my child, you will go to Hell. You didn’t turn out right, after all. I took you to Noumahal so many times, but even that didn’t open your eyes. Didn’t you see those girls? Some the same age as you, others even younger, but they were all draped in burkhas. They looked beautiful. And they pray their namaz and observe fasting during Ramadan. You are getting older and you are giving up all. Yes, Hell is where you’ll end up, I can see.”
Let Ma hit me as hard as she liked, I would never wear a burqa. I went and sat down at my desk. A book lay open before me, but I only stared at the pages. The letters were blurred, as if hidden under the wings of a vulture.
I could hear Ma walking along the corridor outside my room. She was still talking, loud enough for me to hear: “She might seem meek and docile, but underneath that she’s a Satan. She answers me back! No one else does that. They don’t dare. If I could whip her the way her father does she’d listen to me. Well, if she goes on being difficult, I will have to act accordingly.”
When Ma decided to act “accordingly,” she changed completely. She wasn’t my mother any more, she turned into a witch. She looked so ugly! I found it difficult to believe that she was the same woman who once fed me lovingly, taught me rhymes, and stayed awake night after night if I happened to be ill. I became like dust on the floor, but deep inside, a blind rage began to gather force, as sharp as a sparkling diamond.
I felt like swallowing poison and ending it all. The world was such a cruel place—better to die than live in it as a woman. I had read in a magazine that somewhere in the world, a girl had become a boy. I longed to wake up one day and find that something similar had happened to me, that I had turned into a boy. That there were no unseemly mounds of flesh on my chest. That I could wear a thin, transparent shirt and roam all over town. That when I returned home late at night after having seen a film and smoked a cigarette with my friends, Ma would serve me the biggest piece of fish just because I was a boy, her son, the one who would carry forward the family name. No matter what I did, Ma would forgive me. No one would order me to cover my chest with a urna, with a veil, wear a burqa, or stop me from standing at a window or going up to the roof.
But who was going to turn me into a boy? I couldn’t do it myself. Who could I ask? Allah, Allah was the only one I could pray to. If only there was someone else, in addition to Allah! Hindus had millions of gods and goddesses, but why should they hear my prayer, I wasn’t a Hindu. I had prayed to Allah before, but He hadn’t granted a single prayer. So I prayed to no one, simply told myself what I wanted: either die, or become a boy. I repeated those words again and again. Baba had often told me that I could get what I wanted, if I had a strong enough will. So I willed myself, with every fiber of my being. I poured my mind, my heart, my thoughts, my feelings, my virtues, my sins into that simple act.
I just willed myself.

(From ‘my girlhood’)

‘Curiosity heard Islamic call to prayer on Mars and became a Muslim!’

I would not be shocked if Muslims say Mars rover Curiosity heard azaan, the Islamic call to prayer, on Mars and became a Muslim. Some idiots have been busy to spread rumors that Neil Armstrong the first man to walk on the moon became a Muslim since the early 80′s. Those idiots can easily make Curiosity a Muslim. Curiosity would become a Muslim exactly the way Neil Armstrong became a Muslim. Neil Armstrong heard azaan while he was walking on the Moon. After returning to Earth Neil converted to Islam. Will the U.S. State Department issue a statement on Curiosity like they issued a statement on Neil Armstrong?

.

NEIL A. ARMSTRONG

LEBANON, OHIO 45036

July 14,1983

Mr. Phil Parshall Director

Asian Research Center

International Christian

Fellowship 29524 Bobrich

Livonia, Michigan 48152

Dear Mr. Parshall:

Mr. Armstrong has asked me to reply to your letter and to thank you for the courtesy of your inquiry. The reports of his conversion to Islam and of hearing

the voice of Adzan on the moon and elsewhere are all untrue.

Several publications in Malaysia, Indonesia and other countries have published these reports without verification. We apologize for any inconvenience that this ncompetent journalism may have caused you.

Subsequently, Mr. Armstrong agreed to participate in a telephone interview, reiterating his reaction to these stories. I am enclosing copies of the United States

State Department’s communications prior to and after that interview.

Sincerely

Vivian White

Administrative Aide

The State had to issue another statement.

P 04085 0Z MAR 83 ZEX

FM SECSTATE WASHD C

TO ALL DIPLOMATIC AND CONSULAR POSTS PRIORITY

BI

UNCLAS STATE 056309

FOLLOWING REPEAT SENT ACTION ALL EAST ASIAN AND

PACIFIC DIPLOMATIC POSTS DID MAR 02.

QUOTE: UNCLAS STATE 056309

E.O. 12356: N/A

TAGS: PREL, PGOV, US, ID

SUBJECT: ALLEGED CONVERSION OF NEIL ARMSTRONG TO ISLAM

———————————————

REF: JAKARTA 3081 AND 2374 (NOT ..)

1. FORMER ASTRONAUT NEIL ARMSTRONG, NOW IN PRIVATE

BUSINESS, HAS BEEN THE SUBJECT OF PRESS REPORTS IN

EGYPT, MALAYSIA AND INDONESIA (AND PERHAPS ELSEWHERE)

ALLEGING HIS CONVERSION TO ISLAM DURING HIS LANDING ON

THE MOON IN 1969. AS A RESULT OF SUCH REPORTS,

ARMSTRONG HAS RECEIVED COMMUNICATIONS FROM INDIVIDUALS

AND RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS, AND A FEELER FROM AT LEAST

ONE GOVERNMENT, ABOUT HIS POSSIBLE PARTICIPATION IN

ISLAMIC ACTIVITIES.

2. WHILE STRESSING HIS STRONG DESIRE NOT TO OFFEND

ANYONE OR SHOW DISRESPECT FOR ANY RELIGION, ARMSTRONG

HAS ADVISED DEPARTMENT THAT REPORTS OF HIS CONVERSION

TO ISLAM ARE INACCURATE.

3. IF POST RECEIVE QUERIES ON THIS MATTER, ARMSTRONG

REQUESTS THAT THEY POLITELY BUT FIRMLY INFORM QUERYING

PARTY THAT HE HAS NOT CONVERTED TO ISLAM AND HAS NO

CURRENT PLANS OR DESIRE TO TRAVEL OVERSEAS TO

PARTICIPATE IN ISLAMIC RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES.

But most Muslims threw all the statements into waste paper baskets. Some Muslims tried to accept the truth though. Will Muslims who forcefully circumcised Neil Armstrong leave the little Curiosity alone? Let’s wait and see.

Why I am a Feminist – Ophelia Benson

I’m a feminist because the world I live in isn’t.

I’m a feminist because I feel fully human, just as human as anyone else, including any male person, but the world is not arranged as if women were as human as men.

The local portion of the world I live in is much better in that regard than most of the rest of it, but I take myself to live in the whole world, not just my portion of it. The more you take a global view of now women are seen and treated, the less sanguine you can be about things not being so bad in your neighborhood.

In Afghanistan, girls get acid thrown in their faces for going to school. In the Dominican Republic a 16-year-old girl who had acute leukemia was refused chemotherapy because she was 9 weeks pregnant. Doctors took 20 days to argue about whether or not they could legally treat her – and then she died. In Iran 36 universities have announced that 77 BA and BSc courses will be closed to women for the next academic year. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops expects all Catholic hospitals to refuse to perform abortions even to save the life of the pregnant woman (which would be a violation of federal law).

One could go on listing examples, personal and societal, forever. I don’t see how anyone could be anything but a feminist, in the light of all that. Women are treated as property, tools, livestock, sex toys, baby factories, slaves – as anything but fully human beings like other human beings.

The situation has improved enormously in the developed world, especially in the last few decades, but it’s far from perfect. Barely hidden contempt and even hatred is all too common.

It would be nice to live in a world where there was no need to be a feminist because women were never seen or treated as inferior and subordinate, but that world is not this one.

Religion Divides (Warning: Graphic Images)

India was partitioned in 1947. The partition of India is one of the greatest tragedies in human history. More than a million people were killed. 12 million people were uprooted from their homeland and crossed the boundaries between India and Pakistan.

But not all Muslims left their homeland India and not all Hindus left their homeland Pakistan.



A Pakistani soldier was inspecting whether the man had circumcised penis during Bangladesh war in 1971. If circumcised, you may survive, if not , you are dead.


Muslim fundamentalists killed Gopal Krishna Muhuri, Principal of Nazirhat College in Bangladesh.

‘The rise of religious fundamentalists and terrorists under state patronage in Pakistan has made their growth smooth as is the case of India, which has become a threat to the existence of the Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan.’

In 1951, Hindus constituted 22% of West Pakistan (Pakistan) and East Pakistan (Bangladesh). Today, the Hindus are only 1.7 percent in Pakistan, and 9.2 percent in Bangladesh.

Hindus are persecuted in Pakistan. They are forced to convert to Islam.

Hindus have been leaving Pakistan. Religion kills and divides people. It always does.

‘Lost in translation’

I am not an academic scholar. I am just an ordinary writer from a poor country called Bangladesh. I studied medicine. Literature was not my subject in the universities. But I loved literature, and I was called a book worm when young.

I started writing poetry when I was 12 years old. While studying in a medical college, I edited a poetry magazine. While practicing medicine in the public hospitals, I began writing columns in some national newspapers. My columns were about the rights of women. My message was that of raising consciousness in a male-dominated patriarchal society where women are treated as sexual objects and slaves and child-bearing machines. Translation was not an issue for me until my books were published in Western languages.

In 1993, when a fatwa – which is a religious decree – was issued against me in my own country, I had to live under police protection. And when the government filed a case against me on the charge of blasphemy, I had to go into hiding. The news spread around the world. Western publishers immediately showed interest in publishing my book. Here was a writer who was facing a death threat – the Muslim fanatics were demanding her execution by hanging and had set a price on her head. Publishing my books meant instant business. The Western world thought it had found a female Salman Rushdie. But by no means should I be considered a female Rushdie. From the beginning, I have been a socially committed writer, one writing about a cause.

When the fatwa was issued, I was living in Bangladesh. Western journalists were keen to locate the book for which the fatwa had been issued. However, the fanatics had issued the fatwa not for any specific book of mine. Rather, I had incurred the wrath of the fundamentalists because of my ideas about women’s rights and my criticism of Islam. But inasmuch as the journalists had gathered information that one of my books was banned in Bangladesh by the government, right away they assumed the fatwa was issued for my having written Shame, the book that was banned in July, 1993.

Note that there was no connection between the banned book and the fatwa, which was issued later that year. The publishers wanted to publish one book – Shame, in which criticism of Islam ironically is not found – because they had read in newspapers that it was the book for which a fatwa had been issued against me. I told them repeatedly that Shame had been banned by the government but that the fatwa was not, repeat not, issued because of the book.

Shame was not about Islam or women’s rights. It was a documentary novel based on describing atrocities that were perpetrated by a government and Muslim fanatics on Hindu minorities. It was not the Muslim fanatics that shouted for banning Shame – it was the government. Its leaders were keen on banning the book because I had criticized the establishment for having failed to protect the religious minority community at a critical time when they needed it the most.

The book’s documentation was for the people of the Indian subcontinent or for the scholars who do research on atrocities committed by the hate-mongers in the name of religion. Shame was not particularly for Western readers, I told Western publishers. But they chose to publish it – they didn’t want to receive any advice from me on publishing my book. I even told them that they would find no criticism of Islam in Shame. I requested them to publish the books that Western readers would be interested to read and for which I was hated, attacked, and punished by the fanatics and misogynists.

I advised the publishers to publish my books on women’s freedom, but no publisher wanted to publish those books. I told the publishers that the government, as well as the fanatics, filed court cases against me on the charges of blasphemy for writing those books. Mullahs issued several fatwas for those books in which I declared that religious scriptures are out of time and out of place, where I said that we need a uniform civil code based on equality – we need no religious law. In those books, I pointed out that, like other religions, Islam is not compatible with human rights, women’s rights, democracy, and secularism. But the Western publishers did not trust me – they trusted the misinformation that journalists had published in the newspapers. They just wanted to publish my documentary novel Shame. And what happened afterwards? Shame was published in the West, but the readers were disappointed, because they could not relate to the contents of the book, and also the translation was not good. I was heavily misunderstood. Not many publishers thereafter took any interest in publishing my other books, and this can lead to destroying any writer’s life. Most of the publishers in the West published Shame but did not contact me afterwards. This is the fate I was awaiting and had warned the publishers about. I am an unfortunate writer who became not only the victim of religious fundamentalism but also a victim of misinformation by the media and by the commercial mindset of the publishers. Among the Western publishers, it was only a French publisher that was not afraid to publish books of mine other than Shame.

Most publishers show little interest in my creative writings. Just as language rules, the powerful media of the dominant languages also rule. You can be a popular writer overnight by the blessings of the media. And again, you can be thrown out of the publication scene if the media ignores you and spreads negative propaganda against you. Because of media reports, I was translated in the West. And because of a lack of good translators I was not properly read. Ultimately it is readers who decide. The problem I have had is to be able to reach my readers. If a translation is not good, it is the writer – not the translator – that is blamed.

A few of my books were translated into English and French by Bengalis who knew English or French. But their translations are not good either, because their mother-tongues are neither English nor French. So, those books of mine were translated either into bad English or into bad French. Worse, most of my books have been translated, either by a Bengali man or by a Western man who happened to know Bengali. Knowing a language does not mean that he or she has a good writing skill. As a result, critics who read such translations deduce that I am not a good writer.

Even though the Western publishers were eager to publish my book, it was difficult for them to find a translator who could translate my book from Bengali into Western languages.

Bengali is a language of a poor country. Who in the West wants to learn a language of a country where 80% of the population is illiterate and more than half the population lives under the poverty line and natural disasters are the only news they read about concerning that country? It is not worth it to learn such a language.

This is not my language’s fault. My language is beautiful, and I love it. But my language is not one of the dominant languages. Languages in poor countries and of tribes in the world are rich and beautiful, but they remain in the back yard of contemporary history. They are dying. At least half of the world’s 6,800 languages, and perhaps as many as 90 per cent, face a similar fate. Bengali could be dead some time from now. Maybe only a few languages eventually will be spoken and used on Earth. Maybe in the future there will be no problem of communicating with others or translating their thoughts. Maybe in the future nothing will be lost in translation. Would that be Utopia? I say no, it would be Dystopia.

Bengali, even though it is one of the sixth largest spoken languages in the world, is the language of a poor country. Bengali, however, has been the mother tongue of notables, for example Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore and Satyajit Ray, who in 1992 won an honorary Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cinematic Art. And it is spoken by Sitar player Ravi Shankar; by Amartya Sen, who got the Nobel in Economics in 1998; and by Mohammad Yunus, who was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 2006.

I was in Iceland when my book came out there. How on Earth, I wondered, did they find an Icelander to translate the book? Was there anyone there to translate Bengali into Icelandic, and could I meet the person? No. The translation was from the Norwegian version. And the Norwegian book was translated from the Swedish. The Swedish version was translated from French and the French from English. Only the English version was from the original Bengali. Are Icelanders aware that they are not reading my book?

Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa’s well-known 1950 film, Rashomon, tells the story of an actual event witnessed by four, all of whom report widely different memories of what happened. Analogously, readers of my books have widely different understandings of what I wrote. I believe, admittedly without facts, that prose loses 50% and poetry loses its 80% of its essence/originality because of translation.

The Russian-born linguist Roman Jakobson declared that “poetry by definition is untranslatable.” I don’t totally agree with him. If a translator himself or herself is a poet and makes the translated poetry sound like the original, there is nothing better.

The title of my first poetry book in French is ‘Une Autre Vie’. As I do not know French, I could not check whether the translation was OK. The poems were translated by a French women who was a professor of Bengali language at Le Sorbonne. I was happy to see that the book get translated. But when one of my friends translated one poem from that book into English to me, I was shocked. Two lines of my Bengali poem was, ‘tomake anchole git diye bhalo bedhechi, din din tobu tumi tumiheenotay kNedechi’. It means ‘I have tied you well with the cloths I am wearing, but I have cried for day and night for not having you with me.’ Sari is a htraditional Bengali dress for women. It is common in the Indian subcontinent to tie the sari-end or one corner of the cloths of both men and women during romantic love and marriage, so that they can be near each other all their life. I expressed that idea and tried to say that you are so near to me, actually you are not near to me. I cried being without you. Physically you can be beside me, but your heart is somewhere else – That was the poem. But the translator made a big mistake. She did not understand sari-end, the word in Bengali sounded similar to another word in Bengali, that is hair. She translated my Bengali into French as ‘I have tied you with my hair’. What is the translation of next line? Instead of ‘I have cried for day and night for not having you with me’ she wrote ‘You are so mean that I have cried for day and night.’ In Bengali, ‘tumiheen’ is ‘without you’ or ‘your absence’. But if you separate the two words, then it means ‘you are mean’. Even though I did not separate the words, she did not understand the meaning of two words when they got together and carried a different meaning. The translator did not ask me any question while she was translating my poem. I have noticed that the translators do not try to discuss with the authors when they do not understand the words and sentences the authors wrote. Probably they are afraid of asking, because it might show that they do not know Bengali well, or they think the author is too busy to co operate with them. The readers are still reading the poem in French that sounds nonsense. I was afraid to check other poems of mine that are translated in French, I am afraid I would find this kind of grave mistakes in many of my translated poems. I have a fear of translation.

My second poetry book in French, Femmes, is the fruit of a literal translation. The translator is not a poet, she is not even a writer, she is French but knows English – no other criteria was considered by the publisher. She translated my poems from an English version of my Bengali poems into French. Several months ago when I read my poems for an hour in Maison de la Poesie, Theatre Moliere, in Paris, I read my poems in Bengali and a French actress standing beside me read the translation. The theater was full, and the audience was French who knew no Bengali. Surprisingly, I received the most applause after I read the poems in Bengali. The talented actress, however, did not get applause when she read the word-for-word translation which sounded, I imagine, unlistenable. Sometimes it is better to hear the sound of beautiful poems in a language that you do not know, rather than hear a bad translation in a language that you do know.

There are some particular problems in the translation process: problems of ambiguity, problems that originate from structural and lexical differences between languages and multi-word units such as idioms and collocations. Another problem is grammar, for there are several constructions of grammar poorly understood, in the sense that it isn’t clear how they should be represented, or what rules should describe them.

The words that are really hard to translate are frequently the small, common words, whose precise meaning depends heavily on context. Some words are untranslatable when one wishes to remain in the same grammatical category. The question of whether particular words are untranslatable is frequently debated.

For example, it isn’t easy to translate poetry because you need to analyze the words and meaning in the work’s flow and rhythm or rhyme. Most translations of poetry are bad. This is principally because the translator knows the foreign language too well and his or her native language too poorly. Some English poetry translations, particularly if they are robotic, do a great disservice to the originals.

Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore’s poems were translated by W. B. Yeats, an eminent poet who understood another poet’s feelings. But knowing the language is not enough – one preferably needs to be a writer or a poet to translate a writer or a poet. In the past, writers translated the works of other writers. Nowadays, we hardly see this phenomenon. French poet Charles Baudelaire translated American writer Edgar Allen Poe, leading some bilinguals to prefer Baudelaire over Poe. Ezra Pound edited T. S. Eliot’s Wasteland, the work that got the American poet the 1948 Nobel Prize in literature. Edward FitzGerald, the English writer, translated the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1859), which achieved its Oriental flavor. Long before that, in the 14th century, the first fine translation of Italian into English was made by England’s great poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, who adapted from the Italian of Giovanni Boccaccio in his own works. Chaucer began a translation of the French-language Roman de la Rose, and he completed a translation of Boethius from the Latin. Chaucer founded an English poetic tradition on adaptations and translations from those earlier-established literary languages. Adaptation, which formerly was common, changed over the centuries, probably since the 19th century. Instead of adaptation, literal translation or word-for-word authentic translation became a norm.

Not everyone is a Gilbert Adair, George Perec’s translator into English of his 300-page French novel La disparition (1969), a work which Perec wrote as a lipogram (a lipogram, for example, is a work in which the author never uses the letter “e”). Adair translated Perec’s work without using an “e” in English and it remains as magical as the original. Same as in Swedish. Perec was a magical writer, and any translator needs extra-ordinary talents to avoid one of the most commonly used letters of the alphabet. This would preclude the use of words normally considered essential such as je (“I”) and le (masculine “the”) in French, and “me” and “the” in English. The Spanish version contains no “a,” which is the most commonly used letter in that language. His novella, Les revenentes (1972), is a complementary univocalic piece in which the letter “e” is the only vowel used. This constraint affects even the title, which would conventionally be spelled Revenantes. An English translation by Ian Monk was published in 1996 as The Exeter Text: Jewels, Secrets, Sex in the collection Three. Look at all the e’s he used!

It is my understanding that English has had three periods: Old English, Middle English, and Modern English. I have enough problems understanding contemporary English, of course. I realize I cannot understand Beowulf in the original, although the translations of stories about the 11th century epic warrior are of real interest. I cannot fully appreciate Chaucer’s Middle English, but I smile at his critique of life around the time that America was discovered, when priests sold bones of animals and pretended they were the bones of saints.

Shakespeare is the one in the 17th century who helped straighten out English from that previously spoken and now spoken differently by Angles, Saxons, Normans, and Celts. His sonnets about love I need more time to understand: in English, not in someone’s translation of what he wrote. When I was much younger, I read Shakespeare translated into Bengali. The translation into Bengali by a non-poet was really not readable. Buddhadev Basu, a fine 20th century Bengali poet, translated poems of Charles Baudelaire and, after reading those poems in Bengali, I developed not only an interest in reading more Baudelaire but also I became desperate to read more French literature. A good translator has the capacity to create a hunger among readers. But it is not always the same. Rabindranath Tagore, the great Bengali poet, translated many of his own poems into English. They were not, of course, up to the mark. But when William Butler Yeats translated these works, he drew Westerners’ attention and helped Tagore to get the Nobel Prize. Tagore failed to create a great literature in his second language.

Many famous Bengali poets have translated English, French, German, and Spanish poets’ work. However, it is extremely rare that English or French poets translate works by famous Bengali poets. It is not that they are not good writers or not good poets, but the Western publishers are not interested in their work until they start writing in a language of one of the major powers.

I depend on translation. I do not have enough knowledge to write in any other language than Bengali, my mother tongue. We know that many talented writers wrote their books in their second language. They did not need any translator to make them understood to the readers. Irish writer Samuel Beckett’s best-known novels are the series of three novels written in French. He translated his own novels into English. Czech writer Milan Kundera wrote in French, his second language. Joseph Conrad, a Polish man, wrote his novels in English – Conrad was a master prose stylist who brought a distinctly non-English tragic sensibility into English literature. Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov wrote his famous book, Lolita, first in English and then he translated Lolita into Russian. Nabokov, even though he wrote excellent English once said and I quote, “My private tragedy, which cannot, and indeed should not, be anybody’s concern, is that I had to abandon my natural idiom, my untrammelled, rich, and infinitely docile Russian tongue for a second-rate brand of English.”

Although Nabokov was dismissive of his second language, he is regarded as perhaps the stylist of the century. John Updike commented that “Nabokov writes prose the only way it should be written, that is, ecstatically.”

If I could write English like Nabokov, I would never complain about my English. But writers are never satisfied with their writings. Satisfaction is like poison – it indicates that death lies ahead. As long you remain unsatisfied with your work, you will continue to improve.

Would we wish that translations of works not be necessary, that we all could understand each other’s language? Would it be better if everyone on Earth spoke the same language? I can’t possibly think of that horrible situation. I can’t deny that many languages and cultures make the earth beautiful. Communication might be a problem now, but not having diversity would lead only to the sound of monotony.

As for meta-phrase, or literal word-for-word translation, I don’t give it a good mark. I am an unfortunate writer, most of whose works have been word-for-word translations. But this does not take into account context, grammar, conventions, and idioms. Sometimes there are no problems with grammar as such; all the difficulties are with the choice of words or the use of words.

Language is not a mere collection of words and grammar rules – it is the expression of a culture. It embodies the efforts of a language community to conceptualize and interpret the world, as well as human experience and relations. As a result, language reflects the complex “personality” of such a community. Therefore, language can only be interpreted and learned with reference to a specific cultural context.

When I was growing up, I read translations of Russian literature. Then I read translations of French and German literature. I enriched myself with a knowledge of different cultures. Also, of course, I read Bengali literature as well as Bengali translations. Some of my friends didn’t like to read translations at all, but I did. I wanted to read books in their original language – French, Italian, German, Russian, and others. But I found life is too short to learn so many languages in order to read so many literary works. I did not wait to learn the Russian language to read Russian literature. The translation may have been perfect or not, but it touched my heart. I even cried when I read the translation of Maxim Gorky’s My Childhood or Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I don’t remember how the Bengali translation of those classics was. I knew I was reading a foreign classic, so I accepted that the behavior of the foreign characters would look strange to me, their way of life being different from my way of life, their way of saying things entirely different. But that was not at all a problem for me. I learned the differences. But I felt so emotionally involved with the characters.

The most important book that I read in translation, the one that changed my life the most, is the Koran. Had I not read it, I would not have become the person I now am. Like Muslims in the non-Arab world, I do not know Arabic. Like them when growing up, I read Koranic verses as if I was a parrot, repeating the sounds but not knowing what they meant. Once I read a translation of what I was parroting, I became an atheist, for I found that Islam is not a religion of peace and that it discriminates against women. I didn’t find that God was kind and merciful, and I saw no reason to be fooled. In fact, it was clear that the words had been written by a man or a group of men for their own social and political interest.

Thousands of writers who write in regional languages remain unknown. Writers who came from the Indian subcontinent and write in English – like Salman Rushdie, Amitava Ghosh, Arundhuti Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri – are praised by Western readers. Do they write better than other writers in the subcontinent? I do not think so. It is the language that makes them understood and praised by the readers. You can be a famous writer all over the world if only you write in a dominant language. You can be an excellent writer, but if you use a little-used language you likely will not become well-known. No Booker Prize, no Pulitzer, and no Nobel will come your way.

Islamic Inquisition

Pakistani Sunni fanatics kill people in the name of Allah. They kill Shiites, Ahmadiyyas, Christians, Hindus. They kill Sunnis who do not support Sunni fanaticism. They kill women because they are women. They are now going to kill an 11-year-old child who was born in a Christian family. She was accused of burning a few pages of the Quran.

Pakistani girl accused of Quran burning could face death penalty.

Terrorist attacks have become a daily routine in Pakistan. Pakistani Sunni Fanatics have been killing Christians since the country was born in 1947 based on religion. You may want to know about some recent incidents.

Most of the judges and the lawyers in Pakistan are Sunni Fanatics. The Pakistani government does not take much initiative to stop killing of their minorities. Islamic faith encourages Muslims to kill people of different faith.

“And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution [of Muslims] is worse than slaughter [of non-believers]… but if they desist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful. And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah.” (Quran 2:191-193)

“Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.”(Quran 2:216)

“Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” (Quran 9:29)

“And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!” (Quran 9:30)

“If the hypocrites, and those in whose hearts is a disease, and the alarmists in the city do not cease, we verily shall urge thee on against them, then they will be your neighbors in it but a little while. Accursed, they will be seized wherever found and slain with a (fierce) slaughter.” (Quran 33:60-62)

There are many verses in the Quran that advise Muslims to kill, destroy, harass non-Muslims.

Fake or hypocrite Muslims say that Islam wants Muslims to live together with non-Muslims in peace and harmony, because Allah says, there is no compulsion in religion. They do not like to talk about numerous verses of the Quran that supports the killing of non-Muslims. Pakistan’s true Muslims love the law against blasphemy, they use this law to commit violence against non-Muslims as well as so-called ‘progressive Muslims’ or fake Muslims. If you love Allah, you have to love Allah’s barbaric laws against humanity. Allah does not allow anyone to choose some of his laws and discard the rest of his laws. Allah wants everyone to believe in him and to believe in everything he says.
Deal with it.

Eid

Muhammad learned a lot from Jews, Christians and Pagans about their religions and and rituals. He migrated to Medina for security and travelled to Syria for business. During that time he got many opportunities to meet people who believed in monotheism. Except 72 virgins part, many parts of Islam, from Genesis to circumcision, were stolen from other religions and rituals.

Jews lived in Medina. Most probably Muhammad liked the way Jews celebrated their Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah. He wanted to create something for his followers so they would not feel that they were deprived of fun and recreation. Anas bin Malik says, ‘When the Prophet arrived in Medina, he found people celebrating two specific days in which they used to entertain themselves with recreation and merriment. He asked them about the nature of these festivities at which they replied that these days were occasions of fun and recreation. At this, the Prophet remarked that the Almighty has fixed two days [of festivity] instead of these for you which are better than these: Eid al-fitr and Eid al-adha.’ (From Tirmidhi Hadith)

Muhammad celebrated the first Eid in 624 with his friends and followers just after the victory at the battle of Ghazwa -e-Badar. Not many people celebrated Eid when Muhammad was alive. Two billion people, followers of an illiterate shepherd-cum-camel driver-cum-war monger-cum-creator of a religion, now celebrate Eid in the Twenty-First Century! The world looks big but it is actually a small world filled with a bunch of superstitious tribes and clans.


Yom Kippur and Eid