Tuhin Das is a Bengali poet, activist, political columnist, short story writer and essayist, broadly published in Bangladesh and West Bengal, India. He is the author of eight poetry books in his native language. His full-length, unpublished manuscript Exile Poems focuses on his life as an exiled writer.
Das’ work appeared in or is forthcoming from The Logue Project’s Home Language, Words without Borders, The Bare Life Review, and “Where Am i From?” The WAiF project.
Since 2013, he has been the target of fundamentalist militant groups who have murdered secular writers and activists in Bangladesh. Instead of protecting him, the police collected and examined his writings for anti-Islamist statements to use against him. To save his own life, he had no choice but to go into hiding and find a way out of Bangladesh. He left his country on April 2016. Tuhin Das is now the current ICORN writer-in-residence of City of Asylum in Pittsburgh.
Read the full text of The Bonsai Poet of Bangladesh, an interview with Tuhin Das, at Sampsonia Way Magazine.
The Bonsai Poet of Bangladesh
by Caitlyn Christensen translated by Nandini Mandal
Tuhin Das says, “If I return to Bangladesh, I will be killed.” Since 2013, he has been the target of fundamentalist groups who have murdered freethinking bloggers and editors, often in public and in broad daylight. In Bangladesh, writers are being persecuted under the Information and Technology Communication Law. Instead of protecting Tuhin, the police collected and examined his writings for anti-Islamist statements to use against him. To save his own life, he had no choice but to go into hiding and find a way out of Bangladesh.
Tuhin is a poet who has authored seven poetry collections. He is the son and brother of women who have faced gender-based discrimination. He is a lover of his nation’s literary culture. He comes from Barisal, a city in south-central Bangladesh that has produced many other freethinkers like him. In several ways, his life—personal and professional—has coincided with the rise of fundamentalism in Bangladesh. In the following interview, he talks about all these facets of his life.
Tuhin Das is the current ICORN writer-in-residence of City of Asylum in Pittsburgh.
How did your upbringing encourage your development as a writer?
My mother always encouraged my writing, and my father would regularly supply us with books, magazines, storybooks, and other books of interest. I have an older sister and she loved to write. Our parents encouraged this habit. My sister loves singing and I learned how to play the tabla, a kind of Indian drums.
As I child I wrote parodies of the poems I read in my textbooks, full of humor and sometimes satire. I started writing because I loved to write, and seeing some of my poetry published in children’s sections of magazines encouraged me to write more. In the 6th and 7th grades, I felt that I wanted to share certain thoughts and feelings with people. I realized I wanted to continue writing to express myself.
How did witnessing your mother’s and sister’s gender-based discrimination impact your political awareness?
When I was growing up, my mom, who was a working lady, endured catcalls on her commute, especially because of her attire. Married Hindu women wear special red and white bangles, and a red bindi on their foreheads signifying they are married. Her appearance attracted harassing remarks that were seemingly harmless, but did have an effect.
Given the fact that it is a patriarchal society, working women are not always seen as equal, even though half of the population of Bangladesh is women, and there is a huge population of working women. However there are two opinions that dominate society: one is the religious fundamentalist groups, who feel that women should not work or go outside the house. The other is patriarchal thinking that wants to control women by not giving them any economic independence. When I was younger, people would comment on my working mother, but it wasn’t as bad or ugly or vulgar as it has become now, where fundamentalists are using religion as a tool to suppress others.
We need the education of women on a mass scale. Not just education in fine arts and literature, but education on sex as well. As for the sexual harassment, young teenagers are making these lewd comments because they are looking at women as objects as a result of repression…
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