The House of Termites

…………..Ma had a wooden cupboard. One shelf was packed with books, the other shelves were crammed with clothes, tossed in any old how, not a single one neatly folded. Among the books were some called  Maksudul Momenin, Neamul Quran, a book of poems by Amirullah, Tajkeratul Awlia, and even a book called Who Am I? So Amirullah knew English, too! Ma had often enough said to me, “Huzur is most knowledgeable. He speaks fluent English!” When she uttered these words, her eyes would light up. Why did he  study the worldly things, the question came to my lips, but I swallowed it whole before it could slip out. Ma would no doubt have found it impertinent. The truth was that in the matter of Allah and the Prophet, logic and reason had no meaning whatsoever for Ma. The same applied to Amirullah. If I simply went along with whatever she said, making appropriate noises, she was happy.


Since I was her child, it was my duty to make her happy or, at least, that was what I had been brought up to believe. Besides, if I could make her happy, it saved me from her slaps and punches. In fact, when I sat down to eat, she herself served me pieces of meat. To gain her affection I kept my lips together, sealed with invisible glue.Those who did not follow the Quran and the Hadith were not Muslims, Ma was very clear about that.  Those   would burn in hell.  No one would be spared.  It was as simple as that.  The basic rules were all very simple.  The fire in hell would roast you alive if you did not pray, or fast during Ramadan.  Or if you went out without draping a burka, and talked to a men, who was not your relative.   If you laughed too loudly, that fire in hell would get you.  Or, indeed, if you cried noisily.  No matter what you did, there could be no escape from that fire. Fire, fire and fire.


I wanted to ask Ma why everyone was so scared of fire, especially in this day and age.  Why, in cold countries, people lit fires in all their rooms!  And what about the circus?  So many of their exciting shows involved playing with fire.  Minor burns were easily treatable nowadays.  Then why did Allah have to terrorize everyone with the threat of fire?  There were so many other ways of hurting people.  Surprisingly, Allah did not seem interested in any of them. Wicked people like causing physical pain. However, those with real cunning  enjoy causing mental anguish.  A battered mind is so much harder to bear than a battered body.  But Allah, it seemed to me, was more wicked than cunning.  No different from Getu’s father.  Or, at times, very much like Baba, who did not hesitate to thrash me black and blue if I did not obey his every command.  The difference between him and Allah was simply that he wanted to give me an education in this mundane world, so that I could be successful in life, and Allah wanted me to study the Quran and Hadith.


To me, Baba was as distant as Allah.  I felt a lot happier when he was not around.  Any mention of Allah — formless and shapeless as He was, poor thing — also caused me much discomfort.  The truth was that I wanted both to stay away from me, their absence was far preferable.  They pushed me in two different directions, so much so that I ceased to have an existence of my own.  All that remained was a corpse lying in a morgue, divided in two. If Baba was pleased with me he brought me large boxes of sweets, telling me to help myself to the best pieces of fish at dinner. Allah, I heard, behaved in a similar fashion. If He was pleased with anyone, the best food was provided in abundance—the flesh of exotic birds, grapes, wine, and many other things. Beautiful pink  women, their skin glowing, poured wine into men’s glasses.



Grandpa, having returned from Haj, was convinced that he would go straight to Heaven. And there, after a good heavenly meal, when he belched, he would emit a wonderful smell. I couldn’t stand anyone belching, wonderful smell or not. What would happen to less fortunate people, I wondered, who might be denied such a meal? Would they simply stand around to smell someone else’s belching? In my mind, I cast Getu’s father in the role of the unlucky man, Grandpa the fortunate one. I took the book of Hadith on my right,   and put the two men on my left. One continued to belch, the other continued to smell. I felt  part of the scene, too; at the same time, however, I was not. I was in the letters, in the belching, in the smelling,   but I was not anywhere. There was no belching and smelling, but they were. The termites and the words were with me,   with the belching too. I did not wish to vanish any of them, even in my imagination.  There was a house of termites in the book of Hadith. Our house was damp. Termites often attacked books if they were not regularly aired and their pages. Seeing big fat termites I felt uneasy. As I was sitting on the floor, got a black shoe near my reach, Baba’s black torn shoe, no use anymore, pressed the shoe on the book of the Hadith and smash some termites. One of my eyes remained fixed on the dead termites, the other read the half eaten words of the holy book.

‘Everything in the world is for  enjoyment. The best thing to enjoy is the virtuous wife.’


‘Whatever you see in this world is for consumption by pleasure-seekers. The

most precious thing in the world is a virtuous woman.’


I was half-reclining on the floor, one hand under my chin, the other clutching the book.


‘If I were to order anyone to bow, I would certainly order all women to do so for their husbands.’

‘If a wife ever tells her husband that she is dissatisfied with whatever he does,

she will lose all the virtue she may have gained over a period of time, even as

long as seventy years. She may have her fast  during the day, and done her

pray at night, but every virtue earned thereby will be lost.’


‘A husband has the right to beat his wife in four different cases, if (a) he tells her

to dress well and come to him, and she disobeys his command; (b) she rejects

his invitation to have sexual intercourse; (c) she ignores her duties,

and fails to perform her pray; and (d) she visits someone’s house without

her husband’s permission.’


‘Women who do not get jealous when their husbands take a second wife, but

accept it with patience and fortitude, are treated as martyrs by Allah and granted

the same honor.’


‘If pus and blood are  oozing from a mans body and his wife licks all that ,

still it is not enough to to pay him back what he deserves.’


‘The man who would get the  lowest rank in the heaven, even he would

have eighty thousands servants and seventy two wives.’


‘If a husband orders her wife to do something, and even though she is

running from one mountain to another, she is bound to follow the order of her husband’.


Some  insects left the book and began crawling toward me. Were they going to eat me as well? This house was being taken over by termites and woodworm. At night, the woodworm ate through all the woodwork, making clicking noises. The termites devoured all our books in absolute silence. They even ate the words of the great Prophet Muhammad. Were these termites Muslims? No, they couldn’t possibly have a specified religion. They seemed to enjoy the complete works of Saradindu Bandopadhyay, a Hindu writer, as much as the holy Quran.


After Dilruba’s departure, books became my only companions. I had finished most of what our school library had to offer—books by Bankimchandra, Saratchandra, Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, Rabindranath Tagore. Whatever I could lay my hands on. I took to the roof or sat on the stairs, or read at my desk and   at times even in bed. When Baba came home, I hid these “unsuitable” books behind my school books, holding the latter in front of me without reading a word. When everyone went to sleep at night, I lit a lamp under my mosquito net and read every word of the “unsuitable” ones. Yasmin lay next to me, fast asleep.

Ma sometimes said to me, “What rubbish do you read all the time? Mubashwera died. You saw that, so you should think of Allah now. We have all got to die, haven’t we?”

I made no reply. Ma’s commands and instructions hung over my head like the sun in June—waiting, as if to burn me to a cinder.



Many times I was warned that if I did not follow the precepts laid down in the Quran and the Hadith, there would be Hell to pay on the Day of Judgment. However, until now, I had no idea what “Hadith” meant. Now that I knew, I did not wish to delve any deeper. I knew shit remains in the pot of shit, there was no use to search for pearls or diamond in   that pot.   I closed the termite-ridden book. It seemed to move under my hands, as if it was belching; as if it, too, had eaten some food served in the heaven. The sound of Ma’s footsteps made me spring back and quickly replace the book on her shelf. She had no idea that termites were silently eating away her book of the Hadith. She was busy preaching to  uncle Aman. Every night, I could hear whispers from her room, also suppressed laughter. I said nothing to her about the termites. If they were hungry, let them eat what they could. Why should I try to have them killed?



What I couldn’t understand was why I was supposed to turn to Allah because Mubashwera was dead. I had no wish to think of Allah. All that business about Allah  was just made up, I was   sure. I was   sure that the Quran was written by a   greedy, selfish and sex obsessed man. If the Hadith was the words of Prophet Muhammad, then he was definitely like Getus father, nasty, cruel, abuser, insane. I could not find any difference between Allah and Muhammad and Getus father.

Even after I had put the book back, millions of termites remained deep inside me, silently eating away all the letters and words in my head, and who knows what else…………………..


( From ”My Girlhood” by Taslima Nasreen. The book has  been  banned  in  Bangladesh  since 1999 )


  1. Timid Atheist says

    The imagery alone is amazing in this story. Thank you for sharing and allowing me to read it. I hope you continue to write about what you believe and share it here on FTB.

  2. suresh says

    Where is everybody ?
    Still busy with those last 2 threads ?
    I don’t agree a smidgen of Taslima proposal or definition on those last 2 threads,..
    But everyone can get a respite and come up here, appreciate her true courage,..
    Come on guys, she moved on, why can’t you…
    Everyone can learn at any age, at any time, at any where….
    But are guys still stick to this ? “Hey mom, wait a min, someone on the internet is wrong “. LOL

    • Martyn N Hughes says

      LOL, I know what you mean and the irony is many of the people on this site refer to themselves as ‘free-thinker’s’. Hahaha.

      I know what I refer to them as being!

    • amy says


      Wouldn’t it be nice to have the luxury of simply “moving on”…alas many of us have to continue to fight stigma, laws & models of prostitution such as the Swedish Model, full criminalization & even legalization (such as Amsterdam) which all in their own way create environments that are dangerous & exploitative to those of us working as sex workers.

      So, it goes beyond her being wrong, in my opinion.
      I live my life everyday with the effects of various prostitution laws & societal stigma, which are brought on by those with similar views & “arguments” as Taslima has.

    • says

      If by “moved on” you mean “ignored all criticism” then sure, I guess she did.
      Of course she could have responded to any of the points made, but then, soemhow I think she prefers to live in her bubble. It’s probably safer than actually dealing with reality…

  3. seditiosus says

    I haven’t read your writing before, Taslima. This is beautiful. There’s a lot of good skeptic writing out there, but not a lot that’s so evocative. I need to get the book!

  4. says

    Hear, hear! Your reputation as an author is well-deserved.

    I’d encourage you to get Amazon to publish that book on Kindle, but have no idea if that would help your royalty situation.

    • carolinedykstra says

      If her publisher retains the rights to electronic versions, it wouldn’t change the situation whatsoever regarding royalties. If she retains rights to electronic versions, she can either publish it herself as an ebook or seek out a publisher who would be willing to publish only that format. Smaller, newer ones like mine would be willing to do something like that if she had the rights, but I know many would not.

      That was truly beautiful. I do hope the royalty situation is figured out, as I do want to buy the book and know that it’s supporting the author.

      • Bernard Bumner says

        Buy it now to read it, and buy it again if the royalties issue is sorted out?

        Important works need to be read, and perhaps further popularisation of the work will also help to highlight the remuneration issue.

        • carolinedykstra says

          An excellent point. If she can benefit from my purchase of a second copy later on, I can give it as a gift.

  5. Robert B. says

    This is excellent! You have a real gift for characterization, not to mention symbolism. FTB needs more blogs like yours that include narrative writing – I love essays, but the variety and the fresh perspective of different genres is vital.

  6. Martyn N Hughes says

    Another beautiful piece Taslima!
    I read Lajja a couple of years ago and I really should have sought out more of your material then. I shall seek this book out on Amazon.

    Once again thanks for all the fresh perspectives you have brought us on Free Thought Blogs. It is appreciated!

  7. Robert says

    I agree, FTB definitely benefits from this excellent narrative writing.

    The fact that you have no literary agent, and aren’t receiving compensation for your work is a travesty.

  8. David Whitton says

    Fascinating and disturbing. Thank you. In the 16th century woodworm were excommunicated for destroying the leg of a Bishop’s chair.

  9. Steinar says

    The termites and the books are pictures that will stay with me for some time. Both for their vividness and the message of the text.

  10. S Mukherjee says

    Taslima, my own Ma went to the Kolkata Boi Mela (book fair) this year quite early on the first day in order to buy your book because she was afraid that the stall would be forced to close down later on!

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