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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Saad Z Hossain

By Farah Ghuznavi

Saad Hi Res 3

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

I enjoy playing god with my characters. I like building worlds that are not quite real, but reflect parts of reality for different people. There are a lot of hypothetical situations you can explore when you’re writing fiction, and even more when you’re writing fantasy and sci-fi. But mostly, I like telling a good story, I like making up characters, I enjoy the idea that I’m creating something that other people might appreciate.

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

I’m editing my second novel, which is tentatively called Djinn City. It’s about djinns living in Dhaka, causing mayhem, and the subset of humans who interact with them. I’m not taking the folk tale approach to djinns, but I’m building up their culture, their history, their character from the ground up.

This is a Bengal centric novel. In genre fiction, the centre of the world, the kind of focal point of history and the future is always some place like London, or New York, white places with Eurocentric cultures. This is normal, since almost all genre writers in English are of European descent. In my novel, Bengal is the centre of history and magic and the future, everywhere else exists in peripheral darkness.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

I got nothing. Writing aesthetic is for prize winners. I’m a genre guy. The most I can hope for is to rip off George RR Martin twenty years from now and get on HBO. If HBO still exists in 2036.

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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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“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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Dhaka Lit Festival to bring VS Naipul to Dhaka


Dhaka Lit Fest directors have announced that Nobel Laureate VS Naipaul will attend this year’s festival.

DLF, the country’s biggest international literary congregation, will be held in November at the grounds of Bangla Academy.

“We are absolutely delighted to announce Sir Vidia’s visit to Dhaka next month, which he has more than once told me he keenly desires. At a time when many writers are shying away from coming to Bangladesh, Sir Vidia will be opening this year’s edition of Dhaka Lit Fest, and we are extremely honoured and grateful for his support,” said Ahsan Akbar, one of the DLF directors.

This year the international line-up will also boast Man Booker International winner Deborah Smith and Pulitzer winner Vijay Seshadri. Read more


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Dhaka Lit Fest to uphold freedom of thought

This year more than ever, Dhaka Lit Fest strives to engage us in writing from around the world, bringing to the Dhaka audience voices from places that we hear of but know very little about. Thinkers and writers rooted in these literatures and cultures will bring unique perspectives to conversations that are needed in our interconnected world when the threat to freedom of expression is felt more than ever before. In a talk with Arts & Letters, Sadaf Saaz, a director and the producer of Dhaka Lit Fest, explains why this literary congregation is of utmost importance.

DLF is fast appearing as one of the leading literary festivals in Southeast Asia. What do you think distinguishes it from other similar festivals?

Dhaka Lit Fest provides a unique platform which highlights a wide range of cultural and literary forms from Bangladesh, in English and Bangla, capturing the vitality and vibrancy of our literary heritage, as well as the contemporary landscape. We have a rigorous engagement with other literatures, making it truly international. Instead of falling into the trap of Anglophone-centric discourse, new and established voices from around the world, come together pushing the boundaries of thought on a wide range of issues. Read more

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Short Story: Last Sojourn in the Sundarbans

by Sophia  Ali Pandeya



Dhaka, East Pakistan, 1970

Even now, after all these years have passed, rivers, all rivers, hold a certain fascination and dread for her. Back then before rivers of blood had been shed, when there was not even a ruby blood drop, not even the tiniest nipple dot to prick the endless flow of a day, it was Nubia herself who was the river.

Theirs was the last house at the phallic tip of the cantonment cul-de-sac, lined with rows of colonial era brick and limestone bungalows. Beyond their back garden lay the great glimmering eye of the lake, Moti Jheel, where Nubia was forbidden to go by herself. Under Ayah’s watchful eye, she would play for hours with Anmol in their garden full of banana trees, where the siblings would go goose-stepping round and round the lawn, “Left right! Left right! Pajama dheela, topi tight! Aagey husband peechay wife!” until they collapsed in dizzy heaps of giggles on the grass. When she got up, Nubia was thirsty. She stuck her tongue out and caught the drip of recent rain from the glistening elephant ear banana leaves in whose lap sat fat yellow fingers of fruit plush with beckoning. Ayah mashing up the bananas, putting salt, pepper and sugar in them. The butter-yellow disks sweating until they swam in their own spiced up juice. Banana chaat was yet another one of Ayah’s delicious creations. There is nothing, however, that Ayah could do to milk to make it palatable to Nubia’s six-year-old tongue.

“Every morning she throws the milk down the sink when I’m not looking! Begum Sahib I strained this milk with muslin twice and she still didn’t drink! Ayyo! My bones are too old for this. Look at Anmol Baba. Every day he drinks down two glasses of milk. Gut gut gut. Drinks it down. See how fair he is? You will be as black as coal if you don’t drink milk and then no one will marry you!” Continue reading

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Call For Applications: Bangla-English Literary Translation Workshop

Dhaka Translation Centre (DTC), in partnership with the British Centre for Literary Translation, Commonwealth Writers and English Pen, is delighted to announce a call for applications for a workshop on Bangla-English translation, to be held in Dhaka from 15-20 November 2014. Continue reading

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Bangladesh: Disposable Rags Of Humanity

It is more than one year since a major industrial devastation rocked Dhaka. Jeremy Seabrook examines in The Song of The Shirt why the horror can happen again, writes Pradyot Lal in Tehelka

the-songWhen the Rana Plaza catastrophe happened and killed more than 1,300 garment workers in Dhaka last year, all that it merited was a sense of outrage, which never went beyond telling us how bad and horrible the whole thing was. There was hardly any attempt to go beyond the mundane obvious, to tell us why it happened and why it could happen again. For those seeking such basic answers, this volume does singular service. The admirable Jeremy Seabrook has come up with this necessarily grim volume detailing the sheer tragedy of those who create such wonderful and fashionable garments for the elite, but who themselves live a life bereft of even the most basic of comforts. Continue reading

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Bangla literature: From home to the world

The third edition of the recently concluded Hay Festival in Dhaka, Bangladesh (founded by Peter Florence and Tahmima Anam in 2011) witnessed a substantial turnout of literary agents from the UKand US this year.

Fresh voices and powerful narratives have struck a chord with prominent publishing agents who are now expressing interest in Bangladeshi literature. It’s a new dawn for Bangladeshi authors whose stories are reaching out to a global readership thanks to the growing trend of translation and worldwide distribution.

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Hay Dhaka: “Is There a World Literature?”

Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra and Eliot Weinberger discuss world literature at Hay Festival, Dhaka: The Daily Star

While the lawns of Bangla Academy soaked in the early winter sun’s glory, curtains to the Hay Festival rose with an insightful session, titled “Is there a World Literature?”, featuring Pankaj Mishra and Eliot Weinberger. K Anis Ahmed welcomed the audience to the first session of the day, right after the inaugural. Continue reading