Ekram Kabir appreciates a new collection of Bengali short stories
SOMETIMES Bangladesh seems like a literary wasteland. No time-winning fiction gets published. No new writers are promoted. Despite being a pro-stalwart literary area, none of the established novelists makes it a point to write in such a way that people read them, get back their lost reading habits. Too many people here exhaust themselves wrestling with poetry. Or is it? Do they find composing poems easier than writing short stories or novels? Writers who show potentials of writing good fiction spend most of their time writing newspaper columns on politics.
It is against this backdrop that Bengali literature seems to be struggling through a cruel time. It is said and believed that literature speaks of society, speaks of history, and above all speaks of the people of a land. On a different note, literature does not talk only about these aspects, but also offers the audience simple storytelling.
Poppy Chowdhury, a relatively new writer herself, has edited Dui Projonmer Galpo and dedicates the book to all new writers. What can be more satisfying for new writers than that? Her initiative would also prove to be good for Bengali literature itself. Well, of course, no bookseller can solely depend on new writers for a voluminous anthology such as Dui Projonmer Galpo. And that is why Chowdhury possibly mingles the old established writers along with the new. Stories written by assorted writers old and new give the readers a chance to compare both categories of writers. Tale spinners such as Rahat Khan, Ashraf Siddiqui, Zubaida Gulshan Ara and Sajjad Quadir have been included in the anthology. This has certainly been a good decision on the part of the editor.
Still, Bangladesh’s literary world lack many aspects that constitute worthwhile presentations. Books and writers are not promoted here except in the month of February. And new writers are never promoted, not even in February. Crime and adventure stories are hardly written and sold in this country. There is absolutely no writing competition in the country. The literary arena would achieve many things if writing competitions of micro-fiction, sms fiction, graphic fiction, et cetera, were organised here.
However, if you go through a few stories in this anthology, you will start appreciating Dui Projonmer Galpo. Take Desh Bidesh (Home and Abroad) by Rahat Khan, for example. The protagonist of the story suddenly gets an American visa. He is more than happy that he has come by something that thousands of others have not. But a conflict begins to gnaw at his thoughts. He does not actually want to leave the country. He is in love with a woman and expects she will stop him from going to the US when he offers his love to her. In reality, though,, the woman encourages him to leave Bangladesh. It seems she feels relieved that she can now avoid his wooing. The man is not really hurt by her rejection, but amazed by the fact that no one absolutely no one, even for one single moment, tries to prevent him from leaving the country. He finally leaves. The main character’s inner agony about this fact is more significant than what he feels after being rejected by the woman. This is a perfect story in the current socio-economic scenario of this land. There is hardly anyone who would be willing to stay after “winning” a US visa, a ticket to heaven.
Another story, Chena Mukh Ochena Alo’y (How People Become Strangers), is perhaps more relevant for many migrants, not only Bangladeshis but also all Muslim migrants in the USA. A Bangladeshi happy couple, living in Connecticut for many years, suddenly discover that their college-going son has become an extremist. Their son even orders his parents to become good Muslims, in the way Allah would want them to be. The parents try their best to convince him to return from that path, but the son finally leaves home to join the extremists. This is a very good story against the backdrop of post-9/11 America. In fact, enthusiastic filmmakers should spring in joy and buy this story in the interest of making a movie. Filmmakers in Bangladesh’s neighbouring countries have already made a few movies on this theme.
Immigrant by Sohrab Zisan is another story that deals with the diasporic theme. A young woman has to return to Bangladesh after her father’s death in the United States. Her Italian mother goes off with another man. The girl comes back to Bangladesh to her grandfather and she starts running a charitable organisation set up by him.
One interesting aspect of the anthology is that the stories which deal with diasporic themes are all US-based. None of the stories have been written against a backdrop of the United Kingdom or Canada or Australia!
Meanwhile, most of the stories in Dui Projonmer Galpo have been written with various social, political and human causes in mind. Take Bidogdho Chokh (Burnt Eyes) by Fazlul Haq Aakash, for example. The writer has tried to portray the prevailing political situation in Bangladesh. The main character discovers himself in a dead land, burnt, with people there surviving on dead leaves and fruits. The character meets the people of the land who appeal him to rescue them from their plight. The people of that land also confess their bad deeds to him. The story explicitly delineates the result of conflicts between two political streams in Bangladesh and what ultimately can happen if they continue to lock themselves in conflict. But the writer ends the story in a cumbersome way. He makes it a point to show that everything has been happening in someone’s dream. The story would have been fine without the dream factor coming into it.
The book brims over with love stories. Many critics think there cannot be a good story without a romantic theme. True to a great extent. The reason, they say, is that “love” also accompanies intense conflict among the characters, and that makes the story highly readable. Take Paromita, by Poppy Chowdhury herself, as an instance. Well, the charm of the story would decay if you already knew the summary.
There are a few stories that seem to have been off-hand writing, but most of them are worth reading. They are likely to shoot into your imagination.
Bangladeshi writers, and of course readers, would feel better if anthologies like Dui Projonmer Galpo were frequently published. The editor deserves kudos for her courage.

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