Your husband Tufail K.
Haider has now been posted in India for several months. Has some
aspect of this country fascinated you enough to write a book?
As a sociologist,
my eye is always alert to social and structural features. Should
I decide to undertake sociological research in India — though
it is a little too early to say so after just seven months on
the post — I may take up a study independently or with one of
the United Nations agencies. In Iran, our last posting, I
consulted for UNDP/Iran on ‘Job-creation Prospects for the
Women of Iran’. Or, I may continue my writings on cultural
heritage. I am writing Agra: Glimpses of Persia. I just
completed an article, Living Moguls, based on a new
documentary film on the recently discovered descendants of
Bahadur Shah Zafar. Am I fascinated enough to write a book?
Maybe, you shall just have to wait and see. The vital ingredient
for any writer is the ‘buzz’. A book begins as an excitement
in the mind.
diplomats are active on the social circuit. When or how do you
take time out for your writings?
By being selective
in my activities. It is not easy, though. Socialising is an
important aspect of a diplomat’s spouse’s life. Diplomatic
life is also not only a constant cocktail circuit. The flip side
of this profession can be separation from children, loneliness,
constant movement and dislocation and lack of roots. Women, in
particular, encounter the above problems. Few professions are as
demanding as that of the diplomat’s wife. In addition to the
constant process of adaptation and adjustment, it can be a
whirlwind existence. Yet scores of spouses of diplomats have
both organised dinners and written books.
Sitting here, we
perceive Bangladesh as an extremely poor country. How would you
describe your country?
not have a monopoly on poverty. Sadly, poverty is widely
prevalent in the Indian subcontinent. South Asia is home to the
largest concentration of deprived people in the world. The SAARC
countries have the dubious distinction of forming the single
largest bloc of disadvantaged humanity. I am speaking about the
lack of shelter, education and sanitary facilities, particularly
for women, sewage system, public transport and electricity.
Contrary to popular perception, poverty is not restricted to
rural areas. One has only to see the bastees, slums,
tenements and makeshift tarpaulin and plastic tents that tens of
thousands poor urban-dwellers call ‘home’ to see the extent
of poverty in the cities.
feature of Bangladesh is its small land base and its large
population. Density makes the deprivation more visible. In my
experience, prejudice and ignorance account for many negative
attitudes. Tehran is a Third World city that is unique for its
degree of cleanliness. The abject level of visible poverty that
one is struck by in all countries of the Indian subcontinent
simply does not exist. Sitting in Iran, the countries that lie
further East to it appear poor.
Do you, as wife of
the High Commissioner of Bangladesh, interact with the thousands
of refugees from your country who live here?
You are talking of
refugees from Bangladesh in the thousands. I, for one, have not
met or known anyone in Delhi or elsewhere in India who could
fall into that category. As such the question of interacting
with them does not arise.
writers do you read?
enjoyed A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth and In An
Antique Land by Amitav Ghosh. I read both of them while
living in Cairo. It was particularly interesting to read Ghosh’s
book ‘on site’.
Bengalis are said
to have a distinct culture of their own. Do you feel you have a
lot in common with writers in Kolkata and vice versa?
One of the
attractions of our posting in Delhi is the opportunity to attend
Bengali cultural programmes that are presented in the city. My
husband and I are regulars at these evenings. Bengalis are known
for their rich cultural heritage; be it in dance, drama,
literature or music and I wish to point out – their intellect.
Obviously, writers in Bangladesh and Kolkata have considerable
common interests as writers in a common language.
New Delhi is often
described as a fake city, where just the who’s who flourish
and the rest get trampled upon. What has been your experience in
the few months that you have lived here?
For a realist and
a sociologist, the glass is both half empty and half full. Every
capital city has its who’s who, of whom many rank as the best
and the brightest of the country. It is amusing to perceive the
ambivalent attitudes of Delhiites to the page 3 people. People
love to hate the content and coverage of the glitterati and
chatterati of the capital city. Yet, these events flourish here
and are regarded as ‘fake’ in the city and national
contexts. Imperial New Delhi and its Lutyens Bungalow Zone,
which forms the residential and official power bloc, is far
removed from the other New Delhi of today. Both flourish and
neither is fake.
I witnessed a
disturbing scene the other day that is deeply etched in my
memory. At the Aurobindo and Outer Ring Road crossing, my car
swerved to avoid an emaciated elderly woman and a small child
who were squatting in a shallow pool of stagnant water on the
road. In the fleeting second that we swept by, I saw her rinse
her mouth using the putrid water, quite oblivious to her
surroundings. This cruel paradox is reflective of the gap
between the haves and the have-nots. It is a sad comment on our