September 5, 2010

Penned by prolific reader and regular guest columnist NAFIS HASAN, Dissecting Contemporary Bangla Literature (DCBL) reviews and informs us on which recent Bangla books are worth our while….and which ones don’t quite make the mark.

DCBL appears on creativeBangladesh on alternate months. Nafis Hasan writes and delivers his verdicts from an eastern corner of Pennsylvania.

– Labiba / creativeBangladesh


Given that the month of August holds a special significance in the history of newly independent Bangladesh – the death of the Father of the nation Sheikh Mujib, and also more recently, the death of the famous poet Shamsur Rahman, and co-incidentally I had just read two really awesome books on the liberation war, I thought it would be perfect to do my reviews this time on these two books. So without further ado, let me move on to the reviews.

“Taalash” by Shahin Akhter is very different than most other real life accounts of the liberation war. It is by no means for the weak-hearted and romantic minded for mainly 3 reasons:1. It does not talk about the glory of liberation 

2. It depicts the most cruel and harsh pictures of the war, especially from the perspective of women3. It is all REAL 

The book revolves around a journalist / social worker’s search for the truth about the post-war lives of the female survivors and victims of abuse by Pakistani soldiers. The story is mainly told by a certain Mariam aka “Mary”, a small-town girl who came to the capital for higher education along with her gullible, innocent brother, and by Mukti, the social worker in search of the forgotten lives of the “Birangonas” of 71.The story progresses from pre-war period to post-war era to a newly independent Bangladesh when Sheikh Mujib was still alive to even beyond that. Through riveting emotions and powerful, but simple words, the author erases the line between fiction and reality as she depicts the destitute state of the “Birangonas”, ones who were once hailed as his mother by the Bangabandhu.  

The pages of this book are filled with vehement accusations, despair, defeat, and finally coming to a mystical conclusion making the reader acquainted with the ugliest face of war. The fact that the glory of war does not faze these defeated women, some who even grew to love their incarcerators out of desperation, is evident because as Mary puts it, “maybe we were better off in captivity as some officer’s object of lust and false love rather than being the object of humiliation by the independent society of Bangladesh”.The same words are echoed by a certain interviewed freedom fighter who stated that he could not bear to even look at these captive women once they freed them – forgetting how they were chanting their mantras of saving all their mothers and sisters from captivity. The author lashes out at this continued injustice, even years after the war, when the certificate of a “Birangona” became a license for prostitution, either in the park or in someone’s bed under the pretense of a marriage. All this and more as these women fight tooth and nail for establishing their place in society and to get recognized for bearing the ugliest pain of this land, this country that the Pakistani army inflicted.

This book will bring out the ugliest of the 1971 war, especially not only the highly publicized notorious image of the Pakistani army and the Rajakars, but also those of the freedom fighters, bringing everybody down to the same level of human emotions – be it Pakistani soldier, Rajakar sycophant or a glorified Freedom fighter. 

About the author – SHAHIN AKHTER fights diligently for the rights of women through the organization Ain o Shalish Kendro (ASK) in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She has previously tried her hand in writing through her journalism and documentaries, but this is the first time she has tried to write a fiction based on real facts.

Caution – This book is not for the weak-hearted or the hapless romantics.


Although Nirmolendu Gunn is mainly known for his poetry, especially the ones he wrote on his cellphone through texting and claimed them to be “Muthofoner Kabbo”, his skills as a prose writer are on the same par as his poetry skills. And this is very evident in his memoir of the 1971 war “Attokotha” where he blends in personal experience, poetry, ancedotes, publications and various other sources to depict the picture of the liberation war through the eyes of the one who fought with the pen rather than the sword.

The book is doubtlessly one of the best examples of how mellifluous and beautiful Bengali is, and the words juxtapose perfectly with each other without diminishing the effect of the other. In this book, he talks about his experience through the war, how he travelled for six months from Dhaka to his village in Netrokona during the war, his near-death experience and a poetic revelation even in the moment when he was expecting Death to come knock on his door, how his friend saved him from being incinerated in his workplace as he was about to go to work his shift on the night of 25th March.  

The book is filled with powerful emotions, not only because of the amazing vocabulary skills of Gunn, but also because of the experiences and the fact that they are all true and real. The fine mesh of poetry and prose presented in this book is bound to move any reader, and the little sprinkle of humor characteristic of Gunn makes this a bittersweet read with both tears of grief and joy.  

Nothing much can be said about Gunn himself, except his trademark beard and his quirky humor and absolutely astounding poetry that he writes. This book is definitely a must-read for all ages starting from 14. Just a note, this book was first published as a series in the monthly magazine called “2000” before compilation and publication as a book. 

That would be all for this month folks! Any comments or questions or concerns are most welcome!


illustration: Usa Seraj
art director / graphic design & layout: Labiba Ali for creativeBangladesh



June 27, 2010

Penned by prolific reader and new guest columnist NAFIS HASAN, Dissecting Contemporary Bangla Literature (DCBL) reviews and informs us on which recent Bangla books are worth our while….and which ones don’t quite make the mark. A big welcome to Nafis! 

DCBL will appear on creativeBangladesh on alternate months. Nafis Hasan writes and delivers his verdicts from an eastern corner of Pennsylvania.

– Labiba / creativeBangladesh



RUPA by the famous contemporary author Humayun Ahmed is a recent publication that made its way to my hands few weeks ago. Now, I have pretty much read most of his new books that came out in the last couple of years, but I got really excited about this particular book because of the title. Rupa, in his previous books, has been the mysterious beauty who has had a love interest for his much-celebrated, anti-logical creation Himu and not much has been said about her throughout the whole series. But as I found out, this book is entirely different and only the title has any similarity to the character with the same name in the Himu series. Before I launch into my critical dissection of this book, let me unravel the plot a little bit. 

The book follows on how Rupa met and fell in love with Rashed, a Math professor from the US, who accidentally comes to Rupa’s house. There are side stories that involve Rupa’s father, an eccentric retired person whose goal in life is to verify and debunk myths that come up in newspapers with the help of his friend; Rupa’s mother, who has divorced her husband, re-married and has another child but cannot get over her ex-husband; and a young village girl with a tumor in her frontal lobe that gives her some sort of extra sensory perception. 

So that is basically the plot. After reading this, here is my verdict – this book is TRASH! I mean, after literally growing up reading Humayun Ahmed, this book does not even live up to the downplayed commercial literary standard. The plot is a stereotypical Humayun mix containing an eccentric father with childish traits, a very gullible but smart and established male protagonist, a hard-on-the-outside-but-soft-inside uber-beautiful, artist female protagonist and some side characters that include a super-talkative maid and a very helpful poor tea-stall owner.

These character designs have been used repetitively in the recent books that he has written. Even with all the unorthodox dialogues, character personalities and activities like when the tea-stall owner tries to alleviate Rashed’s headache through some herbal medicine and gets beaten and kicked out, the book fails to provide any sort of literary enjoyment. The over-used plot develops poorly and the ending is even worse when the author tries to tie all the strings together by throwing in the secret, ever-watchful, all-powerful NATURE who solves everything unknown to mankind. 

Overall, I would definitely not recommend this book to any avid readers out there if you are looking for some intellectual fun! But, if you are in a bus or in transit or you would just can’t fall asleep, then you can read this! 

You can find the book here but you will need to register!




MANUSH HISHEBE AMAR OPORADH-SHOMUHO – it was by a mere coincidence that I read two consecutive books by authors with the same first names. But I have been reading Humayun Azad for a while now and it still impresses me to see his use of the language to develop the plot, the characters, their emotions and thoughts, and even the plain simple surroundings. It was almost a 180 degree turnaround for me when I picked up this book after reading Rupa by Humayun Ahmed. Obviously, as you can understand from my elated sentences, I loved it! Before the critical dissection, here is a plot preview:

The protagonist, Anis, is a government official and the book tells the story of his life. Anis is a very normal, but sensitive and emotional person whose life, as he believes, is continuously haunted by his guilty conscience. He feels guilty to be alive when his friend dies and he gets involved in a relationship with his dead friend’s wife, Dolly. Although he feels attracted to Dolly and wanted to stay away from her lest he does something despicable, he inevitably gets entangled in a strange relationship where he cannot think of Dolly as his wife but he still wants to make her happy.

Anis does not want to procreate because of his belief that he shouldn’t add to the guilt of this world by producing offsprings, and that estranges him from his wife. As he steadily rises up the ladder of success through promotions in his job, he has come repeatedly in intimate contact with other females and his guilty conscience only comes to nascent after his tryst with these women. His final quickie with a teenage girl leaves him guilty and questioning what he wants from life – and in the end, he is seen to be leaving the city and going back to the nature where he wants to take refuge in the unknown.

The story is simply AMAZING! The whole network of fine language, character traits, scene settings come together in a fine mesh of literary excellence with shades of existensialism etched deeply between the lines. The book repeatedly points out the hypocracy that exists within our society and the urgent need for a victim to be blamed for any sort of mishap. The author shows us how the society judges an individual who questions the very foundations of such a society by trying to exercise his freedom of choice.

The contradictions presented in Anis’ life is very representative of what an individual would face in a stalemate marriage, or in a mid-life crisis or even at a government job where corruption runs rampant and honest officials are coaxed to participate or facilitate such activities. The ending of the book shows Anis tired of civilization where all his attempts to atone for his sins fail and he thus runs away to the place where he has no idea about how things work – to the wilderness.

This book is a must-read for anyone who would like some stimulating wordplay and want to get a glimpse at the machinations of the human mind. I am sure a lot of us can relate to Anis’ guilt trips since they are so common in our everyday lives. Just be warned that intellectual exercise, not too rigorous though, is required for understanding.

Enjoy folks!


illustration: Usa Seraj
art director / graphic design & layout: Labiba Ali for creativeBangladesh


February 21, 2010

On the occasion of Ekushey February (1952 Bangla Language Movement), I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to do some research on The Origins of Bangla Language and share it with you. So, I went on a treasure hunt on the internet and visited the usual sites (wikipedia, cornell bangla dept, sadly banglapedia is no longer online) to gather some information. Below is a compilation of what I have found (sources are credited at the end of the feature).
Out of curiosity I also explored to see what Bangla books are available out there for those of us living outside Bangladesh. Below I list a few selection of books which I thought were particularly good or interesting. Those of you with young children, the language books might be of special interest to you. Another website for Bangla books is Boi Mela, which has a wide selection of books. The books are shipped from Bangladesh while the e-books can be downloaded from their website (some are even free!). 
I hope you are taking full advantage of all the Ekushey February cultural events happening in your area. I always love going to these events so that I can get my share of delicious Bangali food (did I mention how much I adore food?).  

Labiba / creativeBangladesh



BANGLA is an Eastern Indo-Aryan language of the Indo-European language family. Its immediate predecessor was Magadhi Apabhransha. From this emerged the three languages – Bangla, Oriya and Assamese.

Bangla exhibits a strong case of diglossia between the formal, written and the vernacular (spoken language) [diglossia is a situation where a community uses two languages or dialects]. The two standard written forms of Bangla, Shadhubhasha and Choltibhasha, stand in sharp contrast with the spoken forms of Bangla, often referred to as Ancholik Bangla (regional bangla). Choltibhasha (literally, ‘the current language’) comprises the standard pronunciation of Bangla and thus serves as the basis for the orthography of most Bangla writing today.

Shadhubhasha (shadhu = ‘chaste’ or ‘sage’; bhasha = ‘language’) was the written language with longer verb inflections and more of a Sanskrit-derived vocabulary. However, use of Shadhubhasha in modern writing is negligible, except when it is used deliberately to achieve some effect.

Choltibhasha or Cholitobhasha (cholito = ‘current’ or ‘running’), known by linguists as Manno Cholit Bangla (Standard Colloquial Bangla), is a written Bangla style exhibiting a preponderance of colloquial idiom and shortened verb forms, and is now the standard for written Bangla. This form came into vogue towards the turn of the 19th century, promoted by the writings of Peary Chand Mitra (Alaler Gharer Dulal, 1857), Pramatha Chowdhury (Sabujpatra, 1914) and in the later writings of Rabindranath Tagore. It is modeled on the dialect spoken in the Shantipur region in Nadia district, West Bengal and districts bordering on the lower reaches of the Hooghly River. This form of Bengali is often referred to as the ‘Nadia standard’ or ‘Shantipuri Bangla’.

[above image: genealogically, Bangla belongs to the group of Eastern Indo-Aryan languages, here marked in yellow.]


Like other Eastern Indo-Aryan languages, Bangla arose from the eastern Middle Indic languages of the Indian subcontinent. Magadhi Prakrit and Maithili, the earliest recorded spoken languages in the region and the language of the Buddha, evolved into Ardhamagadhi (‘Half Magadhi’) in the early part of the first millennium CE. Ardhamagadhi, as with all of the Prakrits of North India, began to give way to what are called Apabhramsa languages just before the turn of the first millennium. The local Apabhramsa language of the eastern subcontinent, Purvi Apabhramsa or Apabhramsa Abahatta, eventually evolved into regional dialects, which in turn formed three groups: the Bihari languages, the Oriya languages, and the Bengali-Assamese languages. Some argue that the points of divergence occurred much earlier—going back to even 500 but the language was not static: different varieties coexisted and authors often wrote in multiple dialects. For example, Magadhi Prakrit is believed to have evolved into Apabhramsa Abahatta around the 6th century which competed with Bangla for a period of time.

Usually three periods are identified in the history of Bangla Language:

Old Bangla: (900/1000–1400) –  texts include Charyapada, devotional songs; emergence of pronouns Ami, tumi, etc; verb inflections -ila, -iba, etc. Oriya and Assamese branch out in this period.

Middle Bangla: (1400–1800) – major texts of the period include Chandidas’s ‘Sri Krishna Kirtan’; elision of word-final ô sound; spread of compound verbs; Persian influence. Some scholars further divide this period into early and late middle periods.

New Bangla: (since 1800) – shortening of verbs and pronouns, among other changes (e.g. tahar → tar ‘his/her’; koriyachhilô → korechhilo ‘he/she had done’).

[above image: distribution of native Bangla speakers in South Asia (the darker shade of pink denotes Bangladesh).]


The Bangla writing system is not an alphabetic writing system (e.g. the Latin alphabet), rather an abugida, i.e. its consonant graphemes in general represent a consonant followed by an ‘inherent’ vowel. The script is a variant of the Eastern Nagari script used throughout Bangladesh and eastern India (Assam, West Bengal and the Mithila region of Bihar). The Eastern Nagari script is believed to have evolved from a modified Brahmic script around 1000 CE and is similar to the Devanagari abugida used for Sanskrit and many modern Indic languages (e.g. Hindi, Marathi and Nepali). The Bangla script has particularly close historical relationships with the Assamese script, the Oriya script (although this relationship is not strongly evident in appearance) and Mithilakshar (the native script for Maithili language).

[above image: The extent of Bangla inside Bangladesh.]


Old Bangla: (950 – 1350 AD) – the oldest document of Bangla literature, Caryapada,  was written during this time. It is a collection of 47 songs religious and philosophical in nature.

Middle Bangla: (1350-1800 AD)Chandidas’s ‘Sri Krishna Kirtan’ represents the Bangla language of the early middle period. The Vaishnava influence is visible in the development of the language. Various Vaishnava Padavalis (verses) and the tradition of writing biographies started. During the later middle period Mangal Kavyas that eulogized non-Aryan Gods – Manasa, Chandi and Dharma were written. The Ramayana (by Krittivas Ojha) and the Mahabharata (by Kasiramdas) were translated into Bangla.

Modern Bangla: (1800 AD – ) – this period witnessed the development of Bengali language as we speak it today. It developed through the writings of Bankim Chandra, Sharatchandra, Rabindranath Tagore and others. Michael Madhusudan Dutt introduced blank verse. Jibanananda Das and Sukanta Bhattacharya were influential poets in the post Tagore period. The language developed further through the works of novelists like Tarashankar, Bibhutibhushan Banerjee, Premendra Mitra, Buddhdeb Basu, and many other great writers of Bangladesh and West Bengal.

Sources: Cornell University Bangla Department, Wikipedia.



Language Books:

Teach Yourself Bengali (Book + 2CD’s) (TY: Complete Courses) (Paperback) by William Radice – the author is an established authority in Bangla literature and language. His English translations of Tagore’s works are the best ones (even better than Tagore’s own English translations!).

Exploring Bengali – Kids Learn Bengali by Ruchira Agarwal

Learning the Bengali Alphabet (Paperback) by Bani Paul

Milet Mini Picture Dictionary: English-Bengali (Board book) by Sedat Turhin and Sally Hagin – I found the illustrations on this book really cute. A good gift for friends’ kids!

Learn Bengali Alphabet Activity Workbook (Paperback) by Dinesh Verma

History Books:

History of the Bengali People (Ancient Period) (Hardcover) by Niharranjan Ray

History of the Bengali-Speaking People (Paperback) by Nitish Sengupta – I have a copy of this and it covers a lot of ground! A good reference book. 

Bengal in Global Concept History: Culturalism in the Age of Capital (Chicago Studies in Practices of Meaning) (Paperback) by Andrew Sartori

Literature Books:

Rabindranath Tagore: An Anthology (Paperback) by Rabindranath Tagore

The Dissent of Nazrul Islam: Poetry and History (Oxford India Paperbacks) (Paperback) by Priti Kumar Mitra

Bengal the Beautiful (Paperback) by Jibanananda Das

100 Songs of Hasan Raja (Bengali Literature in English) (Hardcover) by Hasan Raja

Pather Panchali: Song of the Road (A Bengali Novel: UNESCO Collection of Representative Works, Indian Series) (Paperback) by Bibhutibhusan Banerjee

The Complete Adventures of Feluda by Satyajit Ray

The Heart of a Rebel Poet: Letters of Michael Madhusudan Dutt (Hardcover) by Michael Madhusudan Dutt &  edited by Ghulam Murshid

The Demon Slayers and Other Stories: Bengali Folk Tales (International Folk Tales Series) (Paperback) by Sayantani Dasgupta & Shamita Das Dasgupta

Women’s Studies Books:

Sultana’s Dream and Selections from The Secluded Ones (A Feminist Press Sourcebook) (Paperback) by Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain

Women Writing in Bengal: An Anthology of Short Stories (Hardcover) by Saumita Chakravarty



July 5, 2009

Here comes TOKAII……

[image: all photographs are from the book TOKAII by RANABI]

TOKAII, our favorite Bangladeshi cartoon personality, turned 25 in 2003-4. To celebrate his silver jubilee, a book was published with some memorable drawings of TOKAII by its creator, the great artist/cartoonist RANABI aka RAFIQUN NABI.

Tokaii was born on the pages of Bichitra on May 17, 1978. He is a street urchin forever clad in a lungi and talking in the Dhakaite dialect. His acute observations of society and witty comments are what made him an overnight celebrity.

Here are some drawings from the book and I hope to celebrate the golden jubilee of TOKAII in 2028-9!

[image: all photographs are from the book TOKAII by RANABI]


June 15, 2009

[image: all photographs are from the exhibition brochure of ‘One Hundred Temples’ by BABU AHMED]

These photographs of beautiful old temple ruins in Bangladesh was part of an exhibition by photographer, BABU AHMED, titled ‘One Hundred Temples’. The photographer’s aim was to highlight the current state of our ancient architecture. It is sad that due to our neglect much of our history is decaying away and soon will be lost forever. We owe it to ourselves and to our children to help to preserve this legacy. I will not say much today as I am in absolute awe of these magnificent structures and am absorbing their mystique presence.


May 24, 2009


[image credits: all images are from ‘Photographic Album of Old Dhaka’ – Bangladesh National Museum, 2003]

Dhaka turns 400 in 2010 and for this special occasion I dug out my book on photographs of Old Dhaka. Below are some samples from this treasure. The book was published by Bangladesh National Museum using, mainly, photographs from its own collection. Most of these photographs were taken before First World War and you can tell some of them are not in the best of shape. But we are fortunate that this collection has survived the years and we can now view it beautifully printed on thick glossy paper. You should be able to find a copy of this book at the gift store of Bangladesh National Museum. If not, then, you are out of luck [sorry]!

A little background history – Dhaka was founded in 1610 to be the provincial capital of Bengal during the Mughal period, though it lost this position to Murshidabad in 1717. It was again, briefly, capital of East Bengal & Assam during the 1st partition of Bengal [1905-12]. And, finally, it was crowned the capital of independent Bangladesh in 1971. On photography – according to the book, the technique of photography first came to Bengal in the 1840s. By the 1850s it had gained momentum, picked up some steam, and, to this day, is moving along with great speed in the Bangladeshi art scene.

Do take note of the different architectural styles: from pre-Mughal to Mughal to British Victorian. And, be sure to scroll down to the end of this post to see a map of Dhaka from 1862! 


[above image: Dhakeswari Temple, circa 1880s.] 


[above image: Farrukh Siyar’s Mosque near the South Gate of Lalbagh Fort, circa 1880s.] 


[above image: Husaini Dalan, 1900.] 


[above image: The photo on the left is circa 1880s. The one on the right is of Ahsan Manzil, 1904.] 


[above image: Dhaka College, 1890.] 


[above image: Two members of the Nawab family. The woman on the right was one of the first Muslim female graduates from Calcutta University. She graduated in 1927 with a degree in Sanskrit.]   

[above image: Dilkhusha Garden House Complex, 1880s.]  

[above image: Map of Old Dhaka, 1862]