I received an award a few days ago. It was the Hedenius award from a Swedish human rights organisation. This award was named after the Swedish philosopher Ingemar Hedenius. He was a professor of philosophy at the famous University of Uppsala.
He fought against Christianity. He even wrote books on the subject of no healthy argument being possible between religion and science. The Hedenius award is given to those who relentlessly fight against fanaticism, superstitions, etc. I have received several awards from Europe and America. The recognition that I receive for writing in favour of humanity and human rights eliminates the pain of my exile.
Sometimes I wonder what will happen to all these awards after I die. I have no home, no country. They will probably be lost. I lost many awards already. I have been forced to lead a Bohemian life for 20 years now. Since my childhood, I wished to get a house of my own and decorate it in my own way.
My wish never came true. Now, I don’t dream about settling down anymore. The older I get, the less I dream of houses. The thought occurs to me that I have to leave everything behind one day. And I frequently remember that everything in life, even life itself, is temporary.
Only Swedish people are eligible for the Hedenius award. As I am a Swedish citizen, I didn’t face any difficulty in getting this award. A brown girl with black hair is Swedish! Even I can’t believe it. Swedish men and women are tall, broad, white-skinned with blonde hair, whereas I am a Bengali from head to toe.
As Bangladesh wouldn’t renew my passport, even though I am a citizen, I had to accept a Swedish passport. With that came citizenship. And with the citizenship came the Hedenius award. I have a love-hate relationship with Sweden. I love the country, and then I don’t – a lot like my feelings towards Bangladesh and France.
That night, I met another humanitarian and Hedenius award winner – the famous Björn Ulvaeus. He was one of the four singers of the famous Swedish band Abba. The band survived for only 10 years, from 1972 to 1982. Yet they were famous worldwide.
After the band broke up, Björn and Benny Andersson, another member of the band, continued their singing careers. They did well, but it was nothing compared to the popularity of Abba. Abba’s music became popular again after movies like Muriel’s Wedding, The Adventures of Priscilla – Queen of the Desert, and Mamma Mia. People started listening to their songs again.
I had dinner with Björn that night. American humanitarian writer Rebecca Goldstein and a few other British and Swedish humanists were also there with us. We discussed many things over dinner, but not a single word about Abba.
He is a free thinker and he doesn’t believe in religion. He has a publication house named Fri Tanke, that promotes free thinking. They published many books in Swedish, but I won’t say that the house is very profitable.
People don’t read books on atheism, humanitarianism, and science. If 85% of the people in a country are atheists, then the number of people who read books on science cannot be too small. When I was talking to Björn, I was thinking about how this very famous person never hesitated to declare that he is an atheist.
Usually, famous or popular upper-class people do not want to disturb the social structure. They want to be identified as the dedicated servants of religion and patriarchy. They want to avoid controversy. Not everyone can be John Lennon or a Monty Python. Not everyone can be Björn Ulvaeus.
Sweden is the best country in the world for human rights and women’s rights. There is no discrimination against anyone – woman, atheist, homosexual, transgender, black, or brown – in making their way to the top. I don’t live in Sweden, but I am proud of the country.
I wonder if Bangladesh can ever become a country like Sweden. Maybe it will, but I know it won’t be in your lifetime or mine. Even if it takes a thousand years, one day, the country will be civilised – this is my dream.