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.

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.

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?”

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?”

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.

Reviewed by Sucharita Dutta-Asane

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Title: That Bird Called Happiness – Stories
Author: Nabendu Ghosh; ed. Ratnottama Sengupta
Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2018

Nabendu Ghosh was born in Dhaka, raised in Patna, then a part of the Bengal Presidency, moved to Calcutta in 1945. In 1947, India woke up to its ‘tryst with destiny’, but this destiny had two heads, creating a splintered sense of national identity and geographical boundaries. On the eastern side of the country, Bengal was divided not just by a line but also, unnaturally, by language. With Urdu imposed as the national language on a Bengali speaking population, books from West Bengal could not be sold in East Pakistan. By then Nabendu Ghosh was already a prominent voice in Bengali fiction.

In 1951, when Bimal Roy asked him to script movies that would become classics of Hindi cinema – Bandini, Abhimaan, Devdas, Sujata, among others, he moved to Bombay. Though these films were based on stories by other literary greats,  Nabendu Ghosh had already found his footing and the subjects that would preoccupy him in his own stories and novels: the social and political upheavals of the time, famine, Partition, riots, socio-cultural mores, and most significantly, love.

That Bird Called Happiness is a collection of translated stories of Nabendu Ghosh, edited by his daughter Ratnottama Sengupta, a national award-winning journalist, writer and film director. The nine stories in this collection are narratives of a newly formed nation, still nascent in its certainties and assurances, mindful of the social dogmas that were briefly subsumed by the larger ‘ism’ of nationalism. The writer’s stance is bold, reformist; it searches for language in which to explore the newness of thought, of an emerging nation-hood played out in individual lives, as in “The Path” and in social groupings as in “Full Circle”.

  • Reviewed by Eshadi Sharif (sourced by Bangladesh country editor Farah Ghuznavi)

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Title: It’s all Relative

Pages: 192

Publisher: Bengal Publications

( http://www.bengalpublications.com/its-all-relative/)

In an era of shortening attention spans, a new and unique offering of short stories seems to be the ticket to allow us to squeeze in a little more reading into our hectic lives.  It’s All Relative, an anthology from Bengal Publications, fits the bill with its diverse set of stories designed to capture the reader’s imagination.

The editorial reviews state that the book professes to shine the spotlight on the best English-language writers… from our region”. The collection presents us with a range of narratives that represent life in Bangladesh, serving tempting fare from everyday existence. Some of the stories “take their readers into fictional zones, straddling the borderlands of the real and the unreal, making them trespass into surreal realms”

By Farah Ghuznavi

Nausheen Eusuf
Nausheen Eusuf

 

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I write because I feel compelled to commemorate something that’s important to me, or communicate something that needs to be said, or grapple with some thorny issue that won’t otherwise let me rest. Making art of any kind (whether it’s poetry or paintings) is a way of creating order out of the chaos of human experience. That’s why it’s necessary.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

I just recently published my first full-length collection of poems, titled Not Elegy, But Eros, which appeared simultaneously in the US (from NYQ Books) and in Bangladesh (from Bengal Lights Books). The book is in part about grief and loss, but also about moving beyond that and affirming life. It’s about the making and unmaking of the self, and the role of art and literature in helping us live.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

I would say my writing is ‘traditional’ in T. S. Eliot’s sense — i.e., my aesthetic is informed by the poets of the past. At the same time, what I learn from past masters is, of course, refracted by the prism of my own individual personality and life experience. The work that results is, I hope, something that is both personal and universal at the same time.

Who are your favourite authors?

Well, there are many. In the 20th century: Stevens, Yeats, Eliot, Crane, Moore, Auden, Sylvia Plath, Philip Larkin, Donald Justice. In the 19th century and before: Keats, Tennyson, Hopkins, Whitman, Dickinson, Donne, Milton, Shakespeare. Among living poets: certainly Frank Bidart, who was my first poetry teacher.