Gayen, Audity Falgun – a Bangladeshi writer who authored 9 fictions, 4 poetry collection, 1 essays collection and 4 academic books.
I was born in such a society where a girl child is not even allowed to play, run or jump in public. I am a woman from Bangladesh. It’s a Muslim majority state. Though I am not a Muslim and I come from a Hindu family, my elder brothers were extremely conservative partly being influenced by the majority community’s attitude towards women and partly being scared of “security” of particularly the minority women in a Muslim majority state.
My family was a traditional oriental family with a good number of siblings. My immediately elder brother was born in 1971, i.e., the year of Liberation War. He died in a refugee camp of India at the age of one month owing to malnutrition. Apart from him, we are eight brothers and sisters in total. I am the youngest one and age gap with my eldest brother is 20 years.
(Photo from Wikipedia)
As the youngest female child in the family I got love. But much more were prohibitions, “Don’t do it- don’t go there- don’t open the window or open the curtain- don’t play or laugh loud- don’t jump- don’t go to roof!” Yes, two of my elder sisters also had to face restrictions as women but they were much more extrovert in nature. So they could often make a debate or just go their own way. But as a shy, introvert and sensitive child I could not do anything upon my wish which ultimately used to get culminated in sheer frustration and depression over the days, months and years.
I dreamt of playing volleyball or basketball, attend swimming or karate courses but I was not allowed. I loved singing but as an honest government official with so many children, my father could not afford any extra costs for my musical education besides school costs. Thus I had no other life but home and school.
(Photo from Intre Press Service)
My father did not allow us, the sisters, even to go to our relatives’ houses during the summer vacation for we may become “impure” if we go outside “too frequently” without any “necessity” like school, college or university.
At the age of 18 I got admitted in University. I wished to study sociology but I loved a lot my immediate elder sister (she is four years elder to me) and got enrolled in Faculty of Law at Dhaka University according to her wishes. But this subject did not appeal me a drop. We had 8:00 A.M. to 12:00 P.M. classes and then I had to return home without taking part in any cultural activities or sports of the university. I was getting more and more depressed.
Prior to my first year final examination, I began growing cough, sweating, insomnia, feeling no taste in food. I began telling other in my family about the problems but they did not give much importance. As I have been an extremely healthy child with no record of ill health so far. At best one cold attack or fever on a year. Once I walked six miles at the age of 8 to attend a family picnic. So nobody got concerned. But I could not concentrate in the exam and just after the exam suddenly my health deteriorated more. My family then took me to doctor and it came in the X-Ray that 2/3rd of my lungs is already wasted. Meantime, my condition became too worse that I could not take food or water or sleep at night.
(Photo from Medical Tourism Corporation)
Doctor initially advised me to take some medicine for tuberculosis but it did not help. Then we had to change many doctors and clinics but none could detect my disease. I was admitted into a clinic but I was not being able to take even a spoon of water in a day. Doctors in Bangladesh said I had no chance to live. My family took a second chance and I was taken to Mumbai, India. There Dr. S.H. Advani, a cancer specialist, identified that I was at stage III of Non Hodgkans Lymphoma – an uncommon cancer that develops in the lymphatic system, which is a network of vessels and glands spread throughout your body- and that I will need eight extensive courses of chemotherapy. He (the Indian doctor) became astonished that how can a non-smoking young girl of 18 can grow such a menacing disease at lungs? Was I subject to chronic and severe mental depression that may sometimes affect lungs?
(photo from eOrthpod)
Anyway, my chemotherapy began and my hair fell. After eight months I came back home and meantime I lost a university year. I got readmitted in second year with a scarf on my bald head. Gradually I grew hair and my second year exam was really well. I attained first class but then one morning I was seen walking with a limp at my home. Doctors in Bangladesh examined me and said I have avascular necrosis in my both hip joints as a result of extensive chemotherapy. They said I would have to be wheel chaired for the rest of my life.
I began going to class just one day a week and taking class notes from my friends. After third year we went to Kolkata and a surgeon did “bone grafting” operation of my both hips followed by six months’ bed rest as prescription. After six months was over, I began walking again, attended last 13 days’ class of the year and appeared for honors final exam. Meantime, I could not attend 130 marks exam for my sickness which my teachers refused to retake and I passed in second class.
After my honors exam I began publishing short stories in several newspapers. I took a part time job at a NGO and soon I began gaining some fame as a “promising fiction writer.” I completed my masters and joined a NGO job on full time basis. At that time, a newspaper editor called me to join his office as a reporter. I was hesitant as I had a little limp in my walk despite the bone grafting surgery. But my immediate elder sister advised me to take this offer and I accepted. But the editor did not give me the salary he promised. When I reminded the authority of their promise, I was fired overnight.
(Photo from Shorpy)
I felt very bad and to prove me in the field of reporting, took a job in another newspaper with less pay and hard work. Thus I spent three or four years in the job of reporting which ultimately took serious toll on my legs. But I gained some reputation as a reporter too. Meantime, I have published a short story collection with huge celebration, one essay collection with celebration and translated an auto-biography of Marc Chagal. But publishers often deprive the writers in our country of their royalty.
(Photo of Chittagong, from Wikipedia)
In 2004 I left newspaper job centered in the city. I wished to do something more for the marginal communities from my deep down love of sociology and joined development sector again. In 2005 December I went to Chittagong to come in more interaction with the marginal communities. I stayed 15 days with an indigenous community and visited the fishermen villages at coastline of the Bay of Bengal sometimes.
(Dhaka, capital city of Bangladesh)
After a year, I came back to Dhaka as the salary of that office was not good. Here I joined a better job but did not like the work actually. I joined Action Aid this time. After one year I gave up and joined a project for indigenous hill people of our country in UNDP. I traveled 18 hill villages in four months time but I could not carry out my work of publishing journals and books as the publication officer. There were lots of bureaucracies in UNDP. So I left again.
(UNDP Bangladesh, photo from Google map )
I remained without work for some days, then joined a national NGO and worked for one and half year. Then I joined another project of UNDP that works for urban poor. I began enjoying traveling to cities and offering gender trainings to the slum women. But again I faced some crude office politics that became intense after I got one of the most prestigious literary award in creative writing category in 2012.
So I resigned again and went to Barguna, a small coastal city. I suddenly got sick again for some reproductive complexities and came back Dhaka. Both of my parents were no longer alive, four brothers were settled abroad (in USA and Canada) and I used to live with my 14 years elder sister and her family.
(Bangladesh Romantic Natok, photo from Youtube)
Regarding my personal life, I grew fear about marriage and having child partly because of my phobia over hospital for long time stay in hospital at very young age. So I remained a bit “reluctant” with men who were “really interested” in me till 30. Then I began thinking about getting “settled” but 30 is a huge age in our country to get any good match after this age. Yes, I had one or two temporary friendship with one or two men. But as a conservative, oriental woman I could not have sexual intercourse with them although we kissed or hugged. So clinically I am still celibate at this age of 42…it may seem unbelievable to a westerner! Having no sex life till such age had taken lots of toll on my reproductive health.
Leaving the job of French INGO at Bargona I joined a publishing house at very little salary at Dhaka again. Then I again joined a job at an English newspaper (at evening shift) and another job at a project of DANIDA (day shift). After working for a year, my condition of legs became very bad and I had to undergo both hip replacements at Delhi on July 2015.
(Audity Falguni’s book, book cover from Goodreads)
On January 20, I joined another job as Deputy Director of the Translation department at our National Writers’ Academy on contractual basis. I was supposed to go both knee replacements at Delhi this year but finally I did not go. I am taking some physical traction and continuing on my office. Meantime, I have authored nine books of fiction, four books of poems, seven books of translation, two books for children, one collection of essays and four research books. Four books by me have been nominated as “one of best ten books” by the most reputed newspaper in our country and also I have won an award. But as an author I need many more miles to go. I dream of going to some peripheral area again for beginning a novel in a wide canvass though I am not sure if I can do it at my present health condition, familial restriction, patriarchal set-up of society and the growing trend of Islamic extremism.
My readers, I am sorry for narrating my story in such details. But all I wanted to say that a well placed questionnaire of yours may find very little relevance in the context of a country like ours where even a nine or ten years old girl is not allowed to play, run, laugh or scream in public. Continuous denial and prohibition can make a healthy child infected with life ending disease or life long disability. So have being a woman shaped my choice? Actually being a woman today have made me partially challenged or physically disabled which affects my work, income, mobility and acceptance in the society even though I am a writer or I may have a large following of 13,000+ in social network site. In our culture, we women are not expected or recommended by the society to travel alone, to live in another city or do anything without the approval of family (either parental, siblings’ family or husband’s or in-laws’ family). I am condemned, criticized and suspected in every moment of life. I walk every moment after evening with the fear of being raped, I feel shy to go to my supervisor’s room for the most urgent work for other colleagues may think I am going to do some flirt with him, I fear the male literary editors, publishers and everybody. No respite. Being a woman means endless hardship and struggle for me.
But I did not give up my war and I am still fighting. I have completed my third year of French class or taking music lessons again in this “old” age and so far have performed in four to five open stage programmes. That’s all!