KOLKATA, INDIA Oct (IPS) - Flush after a court order lifting a ban on one of her many controversial books and sitting in the company of her Indian friends in this eastern city, Taslima Nasreen had every reason to look smug.
"This is the victory of people who believe in freedom of speech," said Nasreen, referring to a Calcutta High Court order, last month, that quashed a ban imposed on the third volume of her seven-part autobiography "Dwikhandito" (Split in Two) by the Leftist government of West Bengal state.
"When I was hearing the verdict of the Calcutta High Court on Friday, I was not too excited or overcome with emotion - it was expected. It was a vedict for democracy in a democratic nation," Nasreen told IPS.
The swanky rented apartment in the city's upmarket Rawdon Street, complete with avant-garde paintings and ethnic furniture, is a far cry from the cheap hotel rooms that she favoured some years back and bears testimony to the relative stability that seems to have come into this exiled Bangladeshi writer's tumultuous life.
Security checks at the gate and the policeman posted outside her apartment are reminders that she continues to be on the hit-list of Islamic fundamentalists both in West Bengal and in her native Bangladesh.
It is another matter that the third volume of her autobiography was controversial, more for the hints at her alleged sexual liaisons with the cream of literary intelligentsia in West Bengal and in Bangladesh, than for anything else.
"If the ruling communists proscribed the book to appease some fundamentalists, then they were not real friends of Muslims," Nasreen, a gynecologist who styles herself as a feminist, said bluntly.
She could not have been unaware that her statements could anger the communists in West Bengal, on whose support the Congress-party-led coalition government in New Delhi depends, and affect the status of her one-year entry visa. But then Nasreen has seldom cared for the consequences of her often reckless actions.
Nasreen, who is now penning the fifth volume of her seven-part autobiography, titled "Ami Bhalo Achi, Tum Bhalo Theko, Priyo Desh" (I am fine, take care, my beloved country), on her life in exile in Europe between 1994 and 1997, said the Leftists were pandering to a handful of fundamentalists just to garner votes.
She first went into hiding in 1994 and then fled Bangladesh with support from international human rights organizations like PEN and Amnesty International and was given asylum in Sweden. Since then she has lived in Germany, France, the United States and India.
In her third volume, Nasreen had, using her talent at mixing issues, managed to bracket "progressive" Bengali intelligentsia with religious fundamentalists.
She expressed mock surprise that literary bigwigs in West Bengal were less than happy with portions of her book "Dwikhondito" featuring them and said she "could not believe it'' when the third volume was banned by the West Bengal government in 2003, "fearing that it might unleash communal riots.''
''I have read the book many times, goaded 25 eminent persons to read it and then we took the decision after considering every opinion,'' West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya had said while imposing the ban.
By quashing the ban, the Calcutta High Court undermined the communist government's contention that the book's harsh take on how women under Islam was offensive to Muslims and could cause unrest in the state, which borders Islamic Bangladesh.
"Women are worst victims of Islam," reiterated Nasreen, who has been sued by an Indian poet, Syed Hasmat Jalal, for making the hints at sexual liaisons between her and Bengali literary figures in her controversial volume.
"My memoir's purpose was not to prove that I am a good person, a saint, a goddess. My purpose was to describe the beautiful, the not-so-beautiful and the in-between events that happen in one's literary life,'' said Nasreen.
The 395-page volume was also banned in Bangladesh, where it was published under the title "Ka", (or Speak) after Islamic fundamentalists objected to it.
Taslima Nasreen fled her native country in 1994 after her book, "Lajja",(or Shame), dealing with the plight of Hindus in Bangladesh, angered Muslim hardliners who threatened to kill her.