Category Archives: Bangladesh

Short Story: Dumri by Sumon Rahman – Translated by Shamsad Mortuza

No one can claim the name of Pedro
nobody is Rosa or Maria
all of us are dust or sand
all of us are rain under rain.
They have spoken to me of Venezuelas
of Chiles and Paraguays
I know only the skin of the earth
and I know it has no name

PABLO NERUDA

I call him Dumri. I tie one end of my worn out gamchha to the iron fence of the Gas Office by the footpath and the other end to a municipality dustbin hook to make a swing cot. I place him there. Dumri loves to be pushed in the swing. He bursts into laughter. The passengers of double-decker buses stuck in the traffic give us a curious look. I feel amused. It makes me feel like a queen. I leave him on the makeshift swing to pick up a cigarette butt left by someone on the footpath for one last puff or to halt a hasty passerby for a dime or two. Dumri turns his head to follow every move of mine. He is still a few months short of becoming one, yet he seems to understand everything. Such a smarty-pant!

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How Sharbari Zohra Ahmed brings history to life in Dust Under Her Feet

Reviewed by Rheea Rodrigues Mukherjee

(Sourced by Bangladesh country editor, Farah Ghuznavi)

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Title: Dust Under Her Feet

Author: Sharbari Zohra Ahmed

 Publisher: Tranquebar/ Westland, 2019

 

The particularly enchanting quality about Sharbari Zohra Ahmed is her ability to make under-discussed historical eras come to life while still holding potent resonance in the present era. Dust Under Her Feet, Ahmed’s debut novel, measures how much and how little we’ve changed both in South Asia and on a global scale, by drawing us into a rather cinematic setting.

The novel subverts our collective imagination of the 40s in India, a decade that was largely defined by the lead-up to Independence and the death of the British Raj. Our protagonist, Yasmine Khan, shows us a micro-culture of the second World War from her point of view. She has us compellingly engaged with the U.S army presence in Calcutta. The novel is set against the backdrop of the Chinese-Burman-Indian Theatre that evolved when the United States went in support of the Chinese against Japan.

Calcutta, because of geographical proximity, was critical to facilitate resource trade. The Allied forces built the Ledo Road that connected India to China, to deliver supplies, and a significant portion of the workforce was American. In fact, the road also came to be known as the Man-a-Mile road because of the number of American casualties during its construction. The Ledo road played a large role in facilitating the movement of US troops from India through Burma and into China during the early 40s. Read more

Poetry: Good Life, Empty Village and His Life by Ronny Noor

Ronny Noor

Born in Dhaka, Bangladesh and educated in Germany and the United States, Ronny Noor is now an English professor at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, U.S.A. His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in The Toronto Review, Palo Alto Review, South Asian Review, Short Story, Taj Mahal Review, FreeXpresSion, The Weekend Independent, The Ghazal Page, The Daily Star, Kokako, and Contemporary Literary Review India. He is also the author of Snake Dance in Berlin (a novel), Slice of Heaven and Other Essays (a collection), and Where Heaven Spreads Wide & Other Stories (a collection).  Read more

How Rizia Rahman’s Letters of Blood shows rather than tells stories

Book review by Shah Tazrian Ashrafi

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Title: Letters of Blood

Author: Rizia Rahman

Translator: Arunava Sinha

Publisher: Bengal Lights Books (2016)

 

Rizia Rahman was one of the most eminent authors of Bangla Literature. Among others, she received the Bangla Academy Literary Award, Ekushey Padak, and Arannya Literature Award for her outstanding contributions to literature.  An author of more than 50 novels, she passed away on 16 August 2019.

Presented by Library of Bangladesh and translated by Arunava Sinha, Letters of Blood Rokter Okkhor (1978) — is a novel by the late Rizia Rahman that explores the lives of the women who have been (directly and indirectly) forced into prostitution, and examines how the intricacies of their lives hold them captive in a physically and mentally hostile ecosystem. It is a window into a system that lives on the fringes of the society constantly bobbing on fickle grounds.

The novel is populated by characters from as young as twelve to as old as being on the brink of death — a feat that reflects the reality seen in the brothels.

Kusum is a fourteen-year-old, often starving and sick, whose “undernourished body hasn’t amassed enough capital”. Because she hasn’t received any customer for two days, she hasn’t been able to eat. For many women in the brothel, who are still under the control of their pimps, life is like that — the more the customers, the further the shadow of starvation. When she steals a little food, out of desperation, Kalu, her pimp, beats her black and blue as everyone else goes on about their business. No one bats an eye. The pimps are free to kill the women in their clutches  without anyone  sparing a glance. Read more

Debt of the Unsung Hero by Sarder Jayenuddin

On 16th December, Bangladesh celebrates Victory Day — a day when they gained sovereignty after a battle with Pakistan in 1971, a battle in which India backed Bangladesh. Here is a translation of a story by the acclaimed writer Sarder Jayenuddin set between pre and post-independent Bangladesh… a poignant story of sacrifice and heroism

Translated by Sohana Manzoor

It was the middle of the Bengali month of Ashwin*. The early nights were too warm, but the late nights were cool and sweet. It was difficult to get up from sleep. On such a night, I was in a deep slumber when there were quick and firm knocks on the door. Someone was urging us to open the door.

Even though I had been in deep sleep, I felt restless. It was not just me, but everybody felt uncomfortable during those days. How could we sleep in peace? The country was being plundered by the Pakistani Army shamelessly. They were killing people and burning homes. My situation was even worse as I had been absconding for quite some time. Basically, I had been on the run for four to five days. And then the boat I had taken was attacked by robbers. We had almost died. Even though we survived, we encountered some others who had jumped into the river to save themselves from the robbers. Actually, that was the main reason why the passengers of our boat were able to get away.

Okay, so we survived. But then, even after arriving at this remote village of Pabna, I felt scared stiff. The military could come here too. They might arrive any moment. The only hope was that they would not come at night. They were apparently terrified of the Mukti ( Mukti Bahini, the freedom fighters). So, who was knocking at the door? And it was quite loud by now. I sat upright and was sure that it would be robbers. Just as I had taken courage on the other day in the river, I took a deep breath and asked again, “Who is it? What do you want?”

A steady voice replied from the other side, “Be quiet. Where is the Professor? Call him.” Read more

Short Story: Shards of Moonlight

By Sohana Manzoor

From her fifth-floor apartment window Neera could see the roof-top of the three-storied building that stood at some distance. She looked at the sun-drenched houses in the winter noon and wondered listlessly if people still used such gigantic mosquito-curtains like the one drying on the roof of the next-door. It looked like some green magic net big enough to catch a genie. And what were in those jars? Pickles, perhaps? Or maybe guava jelly? The child in her heart gave a shout of glee and, for a moment, she thought she had a whiff of her grandmother’s guava jelly emanating from the kitchen. But her grandmother had died years ago, and the house where she had lived was gone too.

IMG_0786The large pre-Pakistan era house that was her Nanabari, her maternal grandfather’s home, had been given to developers some years ago. While Neera could understand the practical reasons, her heart cried incessantly at the loss. The cluster of coconut trees standing at the bedroom-window of Neera’s apartment often made her sadder than ever even though she also considered herself luckier than most people of Dhaka where it was difficult indeed to get a breath of fresh air. But at her Nanabari, there were four such coconut trees. Images from her childhood when her uncles and aunts had made watches and spectacles for her with the tough and shiny dark green coconut leaves stood out fresh in her mind. Read more

 Short Story: The Disclosure  

By Rashid Askari

The rusty old bus skidded to a halt with a screech of brakes. The engine stopped with an ear-splitting sound. Exhaust fumes were winding into dark clouds. It was a routine picture. There was, however, plenty of room for controversy as to whether it could be called a bus. It was little bigger than a minibus and much smaller than an ordinary one. It looked like a tin-can with a turtle neck. People would call it murir tin. This grotesque shape was made by a local carpenter-cum- bus mechanic who went by the name of Dilu Mistry. Rumour had it that he was capable of making a jet engine only out of the motor accessories. However, the proof of the pudding was never in the eating in Dilu Mistry’s case. If ever asked, clever Dilu would wear a mysterious smile on his face that left a cryptic message that his hidden worth was one of the unsolved mysteries of the locality.  Dilu Mistry’s name was so strikingly inscribed on the turtle-neck’s body that it would tickle your fancy on sight. But the optical attraction would fly out of the windows after you had squeezed into it through the narrow door. Jam-packed with passengers the motor turtle used to move so sluggishly that it would take the whole day to cover the distance of about fifty miles between Rangpur and Gaibandha suffering at least a couple of engine failures. It might have amused people to call it a buffalo-cart, but they were left with no second choice.

Haripada would travel between his home in Mithapukur and workplace in Rangpur once a week. Every Thursday he would come home in the evening, stay one day and two nights and the next Saturday go back to his workplace. He was a lecturer in English at a non-government college on the outskirts of Rangpur town. He joined the college immediately after he had completed his Master’s from Dhaka University. He could have got a much better job in Dhaka, but he missed it for no fault of his own. Dhaka on and after 25thMarch (1971) was blazing. The horrific Operation Searchlight was stalking through the city. Mujib had declared independence of Bangladesh and been taken prisoner. The marauding Pakistani armed forces had overrun the capital and unleashed a reign of terror upon the defenceless people. A mighty eagle swooped on the innocent chicks.

When the buffalo cart driver with a stubbly beard braked hard, the passengers dozing fitfully woke up with a start. But Haripada was not one of them. Nor was he wide awake. Seated by a window he was brooding over his life. How things had been out of joint over a few days! The son of Kalipada Master and the grandson of Bishnupada Master had to be Haripada Master. People would call him Professor. Lecturers of non-government colleges were professors in the eye of the common people. But Haripada was not happy with his position. He was not willing to take up his ancestral profession. He had rather a mind to serve in the civil service and had the ability too. But a violent storm from the western sky had dashed all his dreams.

“Get off the bus. You, the bloody Bengali. Get cracking.” A throaty voice boomed like a rumble of thunder. Read more

Short Story: A New Dawn for Reba

By Sohana Manzoor

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“Did you hear about the arbitration?”

“No… what’s that?”

“So, you know nothing? Everybody’s talking about it.”

Reba raised her eyes from pages of her book and looked at the eager face staring at her. “Well, it takes place at least three times every month,” she observed complacently. “I don’t see why I should be interested in this particular one. Only last week there was a dispute between Keramot Chacha (Uncle) and his nephew on land.”

“This isn’t just any arbitration!” said an irritated Amina. “You’re so much into those precious books of yours that these days you barely notice the people around you.”

Closing the fat volume of test-papers in her hand with a thud, Reba looked at the young woman in front of her. She said as politely as she could, “Look, I’ve the HSC (Higher Secondary School Certificate) exam coming up. I’ve no time for gossip right now.”

“And then you’ll probably go to town to study at a big college and won’t remember any of us. You’ll be a hoity-toity miss and forget all about your friends in the village!”

“Wait a minute– what’s the matter with you? Why are you acting like this?” Read more

Short Story: The Cat by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay

Translated by Shah Tazrian Ashrafi

 

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Bust of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay

I was in my bedroom, sitting on the stool, dozing with a hookah in my hand. A sliver of light was permeating, creating a clever shadow on the wall, a ghost dancing. Lunch wasn’t ready yet — I sat in a pensive state; I was dreaming as I puffed… If I were Napoleon, could I win the battle of Waterloo?

Right at the moment, an unexpected sound crept in, “Meow”.

As I tried looking, I couldn’t perceive anything. First, I thought that the Duke of Wellington had taken the shape of a cat and was approaching me to beg for some opium. Full of enthusiasm, tough as a stone, I thought I’d say that the Lord Duke shouldn’t ask for more, given that he had been awarded previously. Too much greed isn’t healthy. The Duke replied, “Meow”.

With careful observation, it dawned on me that this wasn’t Wellington! This was a petty cat that had drunk the milk reserved for me as I was busy arranging soldiers on Waterloo’s field — unaware of the cat’s theft. The beautiful cat, filled with satisfaction after finishing all the milk was intent on making its satisfaction known to this world.

In a mellifluous tone, it said “Meow!”

IMG_0683I did perceive that the cat was mocking at me, that it was laughing internally as, facing me, it thought; “Somebody dies drying the pond; somebody eats the koi.”

I perceive that the “Meow” had the intent of understanding what was on my mind. I perceive that the cat’s thought was, “I’ve finished your milk—now what do you say?” Read more

Short Story: Rosey in the Sky with (Fake) Diamonds

By Shah Tazrian Ashrafi

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Rosey, formerly Jameel, lived in Dhaka, a city which fumed like a truck in trouble and grew out of an old patch of fertile land. When the first rods seeded its soil, buildings bloomed like concrete flowers and  native tigers ran away for dear life, their footprints erased by the tires of metallic animals. The new city with its poor infrastructure, claimed its victims on a regular basis — rivers, animals, earth, air, people. Rosey walked the streets dressed like a paste jewellery store, a shiny horse with a rose in her hair and high heeled hooves. Her hair was an undulating ocean of embers when lit by the sun’s fiery rays. She trotted on the busy roads like a cautious horse as her high heels rang in the pedestrians’ ears — thak, thak, thak.

Some children would run away when they noticed her, some would hide behind their mothers as their mothers would say, “Bhoy er ki ache? Kicchu hobena. (What is there to fear? Nothing will happen.)” She was aware of their dread when they saw her emerge from a crowd of ordinary and ‘acceptable’ people. She knew they thought she would abduct them and turn them into her kind. She also knew how stereotypical the human mind was — how unwholesome, how hostile it was towards anything different. As opposed to the children who feared her kind and those grown-ups who abhorred them, there were still some she knew who wore the garb of humanity, who did not fling the term “Hijra (eunuchs)” as a slur — people like Saleem bhai (brother), Ruma chachi (aunty), the vegetable vendor, Kakoli, and Rubel, the postman.

On that day, the air in the market was thick with flies and the unholy stench of meat, sacrificial animal gut and excrement; the ground was tinged with blood and boric acid. Beggars, Hijras and Bedes (nomadic tribals) populated the streets; some in their usual clothes, some in their best; and some with all of their limbs in proper places, some amputated. It was as though Qurbani Eid ( where animal sacrifices are made to God on a particular date by a particular person) had given them a secret clarion call — a call only those living in the cages of poverty and in the margins of society could decipher — as if it was their turn to sacrifice the meat. Read more

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