A CONVERSATION WITH TANVEER
“If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”
Author and activist, Tanveer Anoy, often quotes this line by Morrison when asked about his writing. And, perhaps, this quote applies and resonates with nobody more than the marginalised and oppressed. Years of colonisation, erasure, threats, and abuse have caused the Bangladeshi queer community to go underground, hidden and unheard of, existing at the margins — no freedom to express themselves; no safety to be who they are. And, this is why the existence of a book like ‘Duradhyay’ is so crucial and necessary. A book dedicated to “তাহাদের অস্তিত্বকে”, Duradhyay is revolutionary for bringing the narrative of a Bangladeshi queer protagonist to the forefront.
For this episode of TDA Talks, we sat down with Tanveer to discuss the importance of books like Duradhyay, and why it is high time we started making space for Bangladeshi queer narratives.
Hello, Tanveer. Would you say Duradhyay came from a personal place? You mentioned it was difficult to write, why?
Tanveer: Let me share a short story with you. The day the book officially got published, my father took a book from my room without my consent, and read it. He started fighting with my mother and sister, in their defence they were attacking each other for the content. So, why the fighting? According to him, the book is written in first-person, and there are a lot of incidents that he found familiar with me, familiar with our family. Ironically, he refused to accept the book as any kind of creation and labelled it as an erotica, a nasty book.
I revisited a lot of my experiences, especially the traumatic events that happened in my life. From sexual assault to bullying, I revisited my own story of finding my voice, and more importantly, my existence. It’s always a very unwise step to revisit the experiences which give you extreme trauma responses. That’s why I had difficulty writing this book. I wanted to write a true story through fiction. I wanted to include some of my experiences with other heard experiences from other individuals — but, it didn’t give me joy. More like, it made me extremely depressed at some point.
In my ten years of activism, I have encountered thousands of lived experiences. As a part of the gender and sexual-diverse community, and as an activist, I found every narrative different, but also at some point, similarities struck me. Those narratives resonated with me in various ways. But there’s a big fear of telling the true story — a hesitation to share the true view. I had a lot of reservations before writing this book, even a lot of well-wishers told me that it’s too early maybe, or it’s not worth it. But, I always want to tell the stories which are not being told.
In one of your Facebook Lives, you mentioned how you weren’t completely satisfied with Punyaho; you mentioned that it lacked in a way. Would you say you are satisfied with Duradhyay?
Tanveer: I’m not satisfied with my writing. Absolutely not. But, is Duradhyay better than Punyaho as a book? I’m not going to judge that. But I would say, writing Duradhyay was a more liberating, honest experience than my first one. In Punyaho, I wanted to write more openly, but some reservations pulled me back very hard. Do I regret it? Yes! All I can say is that I wish I would have been bolder with Punyaho. I wish I would have opened some doors and wouldn’t have shut them down abruptly.
What made you want to explore non-binary identity in your book?
Tanveer: The concept of non-binary is very much utopian to a lot of people around us. They dismiss the identity very easily with snobbish western phenomena, but truly speaking, it’s an identity that should be discussed more frequently. I do relate with the identity, and for a long time I couldn’t find it — so, there were several times when wrong identities were forcefully accepted, which made my journey more cathartic. I struggled with the binary structure of society, it still haunts me because it was imposed, but not self-accepted. So, telling a story about an identity like non-binary is very crucial and it’s about time!
Your book focused more on the protagonist’s journey from a very intimate and heartfelt perspective, as opposed to one more mired in identity politics. Do you think that at this point, it is more important for the Bangladeshi audience to empathise with queer people, as opposed to educating them about queerness from a political perspective?
Tanveer: Honestly speaking, everything is political. I didn’t have a particular agenda, but I did feel like the story should come from an authentic perspective, rather than a heteronormative fantasy. Although the book is in a fiction form, the incidents are real — they happened, and are happening all around us. I have prepared myself for numerous backlash, so this time I didn’t close the doors abruptly. I think stories are stories — the readers have the full authority to examine, critic, and celebrate — but also, they need to understand where the story is coming from. So, it’s more important to at least acknowledge the existence of the narrative — that’s my main agenda. Love it, or hate it — but you can’t deny or erase their existence.
Did you feel like it was necessary to make this book as traumatic as it is? If yes, why did you think this story needed to be told this way?
Tanveer: The truth is reality is harsh, and fantasy is flashy. We shame the idea of sharing the stories of trauma. But I did not make the book traumatic out of necessity; rather, the storytelling flow was so natural that I sometimes stopped and took a break from the process. There were many ways to stop writing about the incidents and make them flashy or alluring, but that felt really betraying. Why are these issues not worth coming out? The chapters are independent stories, and glued over with a thin thread — glad it worked imperfectly, and at the end of the day, honesty shined brightly.
What or who would you say are some inspirations behind your books?
Tanveer: When I finished reading The Bluest Eye, I was so angry. I was shaking with immature anxiety because I kept asking why Pecola was being portrayed so vulnerably. The more I calmed myself down, and went through the book a couple of times for one of my papers — the more I finally understood that characters aren’t designed to be perfect. So, the vulnerability of Pecola wasn’t exaggerated, it was portrayed the way it was needed to be. So, my inspiration definitely came from The Bluest Eye, and more importantly, the African American authors’ writing structure always fascinated me. The narratives are raw, unapologetically honest, and real. I emotionally burned out after reading Native Son, Beloved, and The Colour Purple.
There’s always a Kafka in me that sparks when I write something. But, particularly this time, my favourite author, the legendary Toni Morrison, was the ultimate muse of Duradhyay. I wish I could meet her, but alas she’s no more. What a loss!
Why do you think the stories you wrote needed to be told?
Tanveer: These stories are systematically pencilled out from the mainstream structure. For centuries, these stories were framed as the unnatural side of humankind, so in this era of revival, it is very important to question the oppression towards the stories, particularly the prejudice against the acknowledgement of the existence of individuals like Duradhyay.
But I do have a line to answer this question. A famous quote by beloved Toni Morrison, “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”
I want to write the stories I always wanted to read — so, Duradhayay is the creation of that special dream!
How important do you think it is that we start telling queer stories based in Bangladesh? Do you think it is high time we started doing that?
Tanveer: I think there are some ground-breaking works happening around but society is not ready to give them access. Mainstream culture is maintained by the mainstream elites — they have the control, but in this digital age, the control is kinda fading away. Soon, there will be more independent works that won’t have to take permission from mainstream structures to express themselves freely.
Yes, it’s very important to showcase queer narratives. Call me rigid, but I want to see more queer writers about queer narratives rather than heterosexual folks. Safety and security are major issues, nobody can assure that — but, subtly or metaphorically — mainstream literature should be filled with authentic queer representations. Again saying, queer people should be in charge of doing that, not others. I have read some works by some mainstream heterosexual writers, and I’m highly disappointed. There’s no sincerity, just an opera of assumptions. So, yes — queers take the lead!
Do you always aim to include queer issues in your books? What kind of work do you see yourself doing in the future? What are some themes or topics you would like to explore?
Tanveer: This question reminded me of Toni Morrison again. She was repeatedly asked by the interviewers why there’s no major representation of White folks substantially.
I will always write about the things which I haven’t read or have never ever seen in mainstream literature. If my whole writing career floods with queer write-ups, I will be dancing with dignity. I don’t have a plan, but interestingly, I’m unable to write horror-thriller stories. So, right now — my head is empty.
How do you find the courage to write queer stories in a country where most people display hostility when issues concerning gender and sexuality are brought up?
Tanveer: Well, it’s very concerning, and traumatising. But someone has to take the lead and move forward. I think it’s very important to understand the complexity of society’s relationship to gender and sexuality. It took me several years to gain the courage to publish. So the struggle is real, the reality is cruel, but I’m glad that the courage is achieved, not inherited. My achievement of courage has an abusive history, so I sincerely hope that nobody should go through the same process. Without more engagements, the abuse won’t fade away.
Duradhyay can be ordered here: Duradhyay by Tanveer Anoy
The interviewer is a part of TDA Editorial team.