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Don’t hurt ‘religious sentiments’: Bangladesh Police to writers

Bangladeshi police on Wednesday warned writers and publishers against the sale and display of books that may hurt ‘religious sentiments’ as the Muslim-majority nation’s largest book fair began here amid tight security following attacks on secular writers and bloggers. The month-long Ekushey Book Fair will attract hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia assured writers, publishers and attendees that ample security measures have been taken. The commissioner also asked writers and publishers to abstain from the sale and display of books that may ‘attack religious sentiments’.

“Organisers must ensure that none of the books on display and for sale attack religious sentiments. We will investigate any complaints we receive,” Mia said. Read more

Source: The Indian Express


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Book Review: Dark Diamond By Shazia Omar

By Syeda Samara Mortada

dark-diamond

“Love is the funeral pyre where the heart must lay its body.”

~ Dark Diamond

From the beginning of the novel, I could picture every page like it was a scene from a historic movie from the Mughal era — vibrant and mystical, yet with clouds of darkness settling in. The colorful and multi-layered characters seemed to fit right in with the grandeur of the palace, as well as the hidden truths and loves lost. There are certain themes that recur throughout, greed and love being two of them; but that does not go to say that they go hand in hand, or do they?

Shayistha Khan, Subedar of Bengal is our central character, aptly portraying the traits of Mughal warriors, and could well be inspired by a real one. His innermost characteristics, some of them being his Robinhood-ish philosophies, the messiah to the poor, avid reader and believer of God are almost in stark contrast to his hard exterior, further hardened by war and its lasting effects on a nation. He is presented in strong juxtaposition to Pir Baba, who is also the grandfather of Champa (the female lead of the novel). Pir Baba’s one and only aim in life is to get the Kalinoor, which is rumored to be in the possession of Shayista. The Pir’s deeply rooted superstitious values as well as physical prowess at times feels like a stretch too far but overall works well to give the character its profile and once again feels like a true calibration of Pirs in our part of the world.

However, whilst analyzing the female leads of the novel, they tend to fall a little short of one’s expectations simple because “women empowerment” is specifically mentioned in various instances of the novel. Of course, one may argue that this representation, Champa’s, for instance, is revolutionary in the context of the timeframe of the novel. Champa without a doubt is a strong character especially if we get a sense of her age, surroundings and growing up years. However, there is some confusion about her stance in life. While she is hell-bent on saving the madrassah (which houses many girl children) from the wrath of the Mullahs who feel that music and books will lead young women away from the ways of God, she is also a dancer who appeases Shayistha and others like him, probably as a result of instructions from her Dada. Champa cannot stand the Mullahs and everything they represent; however, she tries to stop Shayistha from killing her father, who is also a Mullah even when he is on the verge of taking her own life. Again, if she is the ultimate symbol of goodness and kindness, then why does she not stop her Dada from his evil-doing and practice of black magic, even when she is very aware of its effects on those around her? Her love-hate relationship with Shayistha is also one that is hard to decipher.

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Book Review: The Temple Road by Fazlur Rahman

By Apala Bhowmick

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The Temple Road by Fazlur Rahman is a memoir that cracks you up as often as it teaches you something. Rahman writes in a candid, conversational voice that has the ability to immediately establish a relationship of trust between the narrator and the reader. The book is divided into two parts – the first, tracing the author’s life from his village, Porabari in Bangladesh to his medical training at Dhaka, and the second, dealing with his journey to the United States of America as a medical intern, and his eventual career in the country as one of the best oncologists of his time. Rahman writes of spending an idyllic childhood among the pastoral greens of Bangladesh, where he inhabited a distant world heavily tainted by nostalgia and thickly populated with coincidences. He has a non-dogmatic, almost secular upbringing in an old aristocratic Muslim family, and is exposed in equal share to the rituals and festivals observed by both the Hindus and the Muslims of Porabari. He paints his life in rich, careful detail embedded onto a framework of compelling storytelling. One has no difficulty at all picturing the lush, verdure fields of East Pakistan, the cerulean lakes and skies, and its people – simple but stoic, wise and thoughtful, flintily standing by neighbour and friend alike in times of distress. As a precocious, sensitive child, he has to deal with the grief of his mother’s untimely death, his own painful kala-azar, and competition and hostility from various quarters in his school. He does have many friends though, and remains close to his older brother whom he refers to as Mia bhai throughout his childhood and adolescence. “Myth and history came together to affect my boyhood”, writes Rahman, and indeed, the division between the two are richly blurred in the folklore, traditions, and political history that forms the backdrop of his life in Bangladesh.

The author’s childhood is not, however, all schoolwork and domestic affairs. In one instance, he encounters a tiger in flesh and blood albeit in a flash, but it is an incident which terrifies and fascinates him at the same time. His first taste of communal violence arrives in the garb of a street fight his two school friends pick up with a vagrant Muslim over his consuming a Hindu offering distributed freely to the poor at the local Durga Puja. The incident leaves a lasting scar on the young boy, and allows him a deeper insight into the darkness and the violence inherent in human nature, particularly with regards to matters of religion and caste. One of the most difficult choices he has to make growing up, he tells us, is the one between literature and the sciences and settling for a career in one discipline or the other. Throughout his formative years, he remains a voracious reader, translating poems from English to his mother tongue Bangla, devouring novels, and scoring more in the liberal arts subjects in his final exams than in science or mathematics. Perhaps it was practical concerns that prompted him to make the choice he finally did, or else the memory of the mute suffering he went through time and again while witnessing other people’s and his own torment in death and disease. He also constantly reminds us throughout the book that his mother wished him to become a doctor so that lives like hers and her brother’s, who died of malaria, would not have to be lost in vain.

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Indian author moots confederation to settle Kashmir issue

Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari on Wednesday released a book that calls for a confederation of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh but without undoing the partition as the only way to address poverty and resolve the Kashmir dispute.

“Regional cooperation with a focus on human security problems, on movement of people and on trade without unreasonable restrictions” was the need of the hour, Mr Ansari said at a function in Mumbai, apparently agreeing with the book’s argument.

“The common traits in cultural traditions and historical narratives need to be transmitted to younger generation through conscious promotion rather than prevention of cultural exchanges, films, and other cultural activities,” Mr Ansari said in his appeal to the governments and civil societies in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Mr Ansari made these comments while releasing August Voices, a new book by Indian peace activist Sudheendra Kulkarni, which calls for an India-Pakistan-Bangladesh confederation. Read more

Source: DAWN


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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Shazia Omar

By Farah Ghuznavi

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

Writing is my favourite form of self-torture.  Playing with words is pleasurable, fantasizing plotlines from foreplay to climax is enjoyable, but then… getting the words to convey the plot, now there’s the hair-yanking, teeth-grinding, eye-gouging challenge.  Still, the creative process is exhilarating, and in the end it allows me to share thoughts and ideas with others.

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

I have published two books this summer with Bloomsbury India. Dark Diamond is a historical fantasy set in 1685 about the Mughal Viceroy of Bengal, Subedar Shayista Khan, who built the Lal Bagh Fort.  I was looking for a time in history that Bengalis could be proud of and a hero who could inspire our youth.  I wanted to look beyond 1971, to remind our youth of our rich, secular, pluralistic past. On another note, I wanted to portray the outer, inner and secret meanings of Islam that come under threat when radical power structures are in place.

Intentional Smile: A Girl’s Guide to Positive Living is a mind, body, spirit book about staying happy and healthy.  It is based on my experience as a yoga instructor and a social psychologist, and a working mother who has struggled with chronic depression.  My co-author, Merrill Khan, is a school counsellor and a life coach.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

In my first novel, Like a Diamond in the Sky, my protagonist was a young junkie who loved rock ‘n roll. Inspired by the Beatniks and folk musicians of America, I tried to simplify and pare down my sentences and paragraphs as much as possible.

The protagonist of Dark Diamond, on the other hand, is a Sufi warrior and swashbuckling hero.  I allowed my writing to be inspired by Sufi poets, but also kept characters like Indiana Jones in mind.

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Excerpts: The book of Dhaka: A City in Short Fiction

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 The Weapon

Written by Syed Manzoorul Islam & Translated by Arunava Sinha

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ponIr alI  haD  always been troubled by his name. He had no idea why his father had named him after cottage cheese. He hadn’t had the chance to ask him, either. His father, who used to work in a shop in Islampur selling cut-price fabric, had died suddenly after a three-day fever. Ponir was 10 or 11 at the time, a student of Class Five at the Suritola Primary School. What had Ponir’s father been ill with? A malignant form of pneumonia, apparently, but neither Ponir, nor his mother, nor the local doctor had had any inkling. The doctor had treated him for flu.But then,why blame the neighbourhood doctor, when the diagnoses of well-known physicians are wide off the mark. They’ve managed to send gastric patients to their graves, before, by giving them bypass surgeries, confusing gas-induced chest pains with heart-attacks. Haven’t you heard of such cases?

How  did  we  find  out  the  truth  about  Ponir’s  father, then? Why, that’s just what we do.As storytellers it’s one of our responsibilities to know these things. How else are we supposed to tell our stories?

Ponir Ali didn’t know whether his father was fond of cheese. The fact was that he had never seen a slice of cheese in his life, for they couldn’t afford any. Perhaps his father had in fact loved cheese – who could tell? But Ponir had a grievance against the dead man – why did he of all people have to be named after cheese? Why not his younger brother, the one who had died at the age of three months? He too had remained as elusive as cheese, beyond their reach.

Asking his mother hadn’t helped. She never answered such questions. Probably she didn’t know either. Earlier, when the family was still somehow managing to get by – back when Ponir’s father was alive – his mother could occasionally spare a few moments for a conversation. But after his father’s death, all responsibilities fell on her. Ponir barely got to see his mother from one day to the next, let alone ask her a question. They had to sell her last pieces of jewellery, a set of gold bangles, to pay for his father’s funeral. It takes a lot of money to give someone a decent burial in this country, you see. Graveyard spaces are shrinking – even in a small district town, it costs between five and seven thousand taka. Ponir’s mother was insistent on giving her husband a respectable burial. He was a respectable man, after all. Besides, many respectable men also name their children Ponir. From that point of view, there should have been no obstacle to a respectable man like Ponir’s father getting a decent burial.

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“A comprehensive history can never be written without elements of folklore”Shamsuzzaman Khan

In this interview with Harun Pasha, conducted in Bangla, Shamsuzzaman Khan discusses many aspects of the folklore tradition in Bangladesh. It has been translated into English by Audity Falguni

Shamsuzzaman Khan, Director General of Bangla Academy, is a pre-eminent folklore researcher and essayist. Some of his outstanding books include Mati theke Mahiruha, Bangabandhur Sathe Alap o Prashangik Kathakata, Banglar Gono Sangeet, Adhunik folklore Chinta, Adhunik folklore Chinta, Bangalir Bahutwabadi Lokmanisha. He has received the Bangla Academy Award and the Ekushey Padak, among many others.

In this interview with Harun Pasha, conducted in Bangla, Shamsuzzaman Khan discusses many aspects of the folklore tradition in Bangladesh.

Did you always want to be solely a researcher?

Yes. When anybody starts writing, one has to decide whether s/he wants to write stories or novels, or compose poems or carry out research works? I came to the conclusion that I derive joy from research work.

You have been engrossed in the study of folklore for a long period. Is there a story behind this interest?

 As I lived in the villages till my adolescence, I had the opportunity to enjoy many forms of indigenous songs and dance dramas like jari gaan, sari gaan, baul gaan, Amina yatra, Gunai yatra, bhawal yatra, Ramleela andKrishnaleela, among others. This early exposure roused in me an interest for folklore study.

Later, I started working with the Department of Culture at Bangla Academy but the then government was not keen on keeping me there. The Academy had a department named “Folklore” but it had no importance. I was put there to be “dumped.” I thought why not try to do something new from this department. So I began concentrating on modernisation of folklore study. I contacted Ford Foundation and invited Professor Alan Dundes of Indiana University, Henry Glassie, Dr Margaret Ann Mills to our country. Ford Foundation sponsored the entire programme. I brought also Mary Anne Lauri from Finland by sending an invitation to her. She is a world famous folklorist. Thus I stepped in the arena of folklore and right now I am organising International Folklore Summer School each year at Bangla Academy. Read more


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Book Review: The Spectral Wound: Sexual Violence, Public Memories, and the Bangladesh War of 1971 by Nayanika Mookherjee

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As someone who is neither an academic nor a researcher, the idea of normalisation of our patriarchal attitudes towards women both interests and horrifies me. And indeed it is sometimes heartening to hear voices of protest against age old structures which have sought to define and limit women, but also infuriating when every time there’s a report of any form of violence against women, the narrative of whether ‘she asked for it’ is invariably conjured. These structures and attitudes are tied up intricately with the history of the nation as well.

Growing up, I always felt pride in the fact that the victims of rape during the Liberation War were accorded status as Birangonas (war heroines), that the post-liberation government had stepped in to rehabilitate them and give them national recognition. But for the Birangonas, the recognition itself came with a darker side. Nayanika Mookherjee’s ethnography of sexual violence during 1971 is a book which for me, in many ways, illuminated some of these ideological problems.

The book, The Spectral Wound: Sexual Violence, Public Memories, and the Bangladesh War of 1971 is vast in its scope. It traces the public memory of rape in 1971, and how that memory of war time rape has been invoked and changed in the years after independence. The title of the book itself is revealing; the celebration of the Birangona could only be kept alive when the individual experiences of the women were silenced, when the women disappeared into a homogenous whole. It is through this ‘spectre’ that the trauma is relived. In the meantime, the portrayal of those raped during 1971 was essentialised: the birangona became a figure defined by her shame, helplessness, dishevelled hair and vacant look. Their experiences were public secrets, known to all but not to be spoken of. Read more


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Deborah Smith on translation and Dhaka Lit Fest 2016

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Deborah Smith is the winner of the 2016 International Man Booker Prize along with Hang Kang for the translation of Kang’s The Vegetarian. In 2015 Deborah completed a PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, on contemporary Korean literature, and founded Tilted Axis, a non-profit press focusing on contemporary and cutting-edge Asian fiction in translation. In an email, Arts & Letters requested her for an interview and here’s what she promptly sent back

What are you reading at the moment?

I just finished Papi by Rita Indiana, translated from the Dominican Spanish by Achy Obejas, and started Rituals of Restlessness by Yaghoub Yadali, translated from the Iranian by Sara Khalili.

What are you writing at the moment?

I’m working on a translation of a short story collection by Korean author Bae Suah. She and I just came back from a book tour to celebrate the launch of her novel A Greater Music, which was actually the first book I ever translated. The tour took us all across the US, and it was a wonderful opportunity for me to get to know the author – personally enjoyable and also useful professionally.

What inspired you to translate Korean literature?

Well, literary translation itself was the only potential career I could come up with; I’ve always loved literature, and tended to read more in translation than not, I think because the UK’s literary scene seemed alienatingly middle-class to someone from my background. Then I had to learn a language, and Korean seemed a good choice: there was barely anything available in English, yet I knew South Korea was a modern, developed country, presumably with a rich literary tradition. So it was part intellectual curiosity and part pragmatism – I needed it to be a language that I could get funding to study. Read more


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“The pen is mightier than the sword. Otherwise people with swords would not be so desperate to snatch my pen.” Taslima Nasrin

By Aminah Sheikh

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“Let Another Name for Religion be Humanism.” It was these words that had lured me, a seventeen-year-old Muslim girl, into buying Lajja from an almost non-functional bookstore in my hometown. I’d got my hands on the book five years after it was published. Back then, I didn’t know much about Taslima Nasrin, except that she was a Bangladeshi Muslim writer, penning some not–so-good things about the community, as overheard during conversations between elders. I recall the day I bought the book, and was wondering if I should hide it. I didn’t. In fact, after reading the book in one sitting, I walked up to my mother and asked, “Why was this book banned? Why was a fatwa issued against her? What wrong did she write?”  My mother’s reply was simple but had a deep impact on me then. She said, “Every individual has an opinion and feels differently. We must be tolerant of others’ views. Allah has given us a mind, we should use it. And never cause any human being harm or drive anyone out of their home.”

Taslima Nasrin was driven out of her home in 1994.

“A Free Bird” was her first poem at the age of 13, Taslima’s first writing ever.  “I wanted to be like a free bird, wanted to fly in the open blue sky,” she fondly recalls, in an email interaction with Kitaab. Her poems were published in literary magazines, followed by her opinion pieces on culture in national newspapers. In the years that followed, her views, expressed through her writings, on women’s rights and criticism of religious fundamentalism in a conservative patriarchal society, made many uncomfortable to the extent they grew intolerant of Taslima’s existence itself.

“Before writing Lajja, I wrote several books. One of them was Nirbacita Kolam, and that book was a turning point. The book consists of my feminist writings,” she adds. The undercurrents in the minds of religious extremists against this very bold writer had already begun to gather steam in Bangladesh and perhaps Lajja was the last straw. In September 1993, a fatwa was issued against her and a reward offered for her death. Taslima’s life as a medical officer was also put on hold. “I had to quit my job as a medical officer at the government hospital because the government wanted me to stop writing books. I was obviously punished for no fault of mine. I got busy with my writings. And gave up being sad for their injustices against me,” she recounts. Although Taslima was born in a Muslim family, she was raised in a secular atmosphere. “It (being secular) was not uncommon in 1960s and 70s Bangladesh. Most of my family members were not practicing Muslims. Some of them were atheists. It was not common during my time for young women to wear hijabs or young men to go to mosques. It is a recent phenomenon after massive Islamisation of Bangladesh,” she explains.

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