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

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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.

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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!

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

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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

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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!

 

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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!

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

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