The moment Kolkata changed
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I have known Kolkata since my childhood, through children's books and stories my parents told me. I came to know it better during my youth, when I finished reading the works of as many superb Bengali writers and poets as I could gather, and also when I published the poems of many contemporary Bengali poets from the East as well as the West, while editing and publishing my poetry magazine since 1978. I remember, I visited Kolkata for the first time in the late 1980s and it was like a dream. I felt I knew and loved Kolkata better than many native Kolkatans.
In the early 1990s, I was the first writer from Bangladesh to receive West Bengal's most prestigious literary award, the Ananda Purashkar. Since then I have felt closely related to Kolkata. I got the opportunity to personally meet and come close to many authors and intellectuals whom I held in great regard. I was fortunate to receive their love, sympathy and solidarity. Annada Shankar Ray, Shib Narayan Ray, and Amlan Dutta were the true secular humanist intellectuals in Kolkata.
Something else happened in the early 1990s, too; I was forced to leave my beloved country and live in exile. I could not accept the idea that a Bengali writer had to leave Bengal simply because some ignorant, insane people did not like my writings, and therefore, I made several attempts to return to my country, or at least, to West Bengal, which shares a common history and traditions with my country. Sadly, each time, I failed miserably, which left me no alternative but to stay in Europe or America. But whenever India gave me permission to enter, I did not waste a moment; I rushed to Kolkata and met all my friends there: a homeless felt at home, for the first time, while living in exile. I tried a lot and eventually got a residence permit to reside in India. No more a constrained tourist, I was a resident in this great country, and I thought my travails were over. I received my second prestigious literary award for the first part of my memoir, My Girlhood (Amar Meyebela). But there was to be no respite for me. Just a few years thereafter, the West Bengal government banned Dwikhandito, the third part of my memoir. I personally knew Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, then the chief minister under the Left Front government. He was initially very friendly, and that is partly why it was so shocking to me that he banned my book, which was about my struggle against religious fanatics. Upon being asked, Bhattacharjee said as many as 25 intellectuals had asked him to ban my book.