• 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”

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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.

By Farah Ghuznavi

Madhulika

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

Because there are all these stories rattling about in my head which don’t let me sleep nights. If I don’t write, I’ll be perpetually sleepless.

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

My most recent book is Woman to Woman: Stories. This is a collection of twelve short stories, all of which are women-centric. Probably the most important thing I was trying to say through this was that I do have the sensitivity and intelligence to write something other than genre fiction! (Till now, I’ve mostly been associated with either crime fiction or black humour, so I thought it was high time people realized that I was a little more versatile). On a more serious note, I also wanted to draw attention to various problems that plague women—from the mundane to the horrific.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

I don’t think I have a writing aesthetic as such, but yes, I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my work. I spend ages doing research (and, considering a lot of what I write is historical, that means a lot of research). And, I read and re-read and edit my work over and over until I am certain it’s as good as I can make it. I can’t bear writing that’s ungrammatical or riddled with errors, of whatever sort.

Who are your favourite authors?

I have lots of favourite authors, but among the top ones would be PG Wodehouse, Georgette Heyer, Ruskin Bond, Munshi Premchand, Bill Bryson, Gerald Durrell, and Robert van Gulik.

Farah Ghuznavi

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

I write in order to save my (admittedly fragile) sanity! Otherwise the voices in my head would drive me crazy…

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

My most recent project was a short story written from two points of view — that of a Filipino man and a Sri Lankan woman. I was interested in finding out what it would be like to write a story with characters that I didn’t particularly like, and to use contrasting perspectives on the same set of events to tell a third story — one that was different from both versions offered by the protagonists.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

I’m not sure I have a writing aesthetic as such, because I enjoy good writing in many forms. But I do have a soft spot for humour and wordplay, a clever turn of phrase.

Who are your favourite authors?

I have so many! But my favourites include Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Alan Paton, Elif Shafak and J. K. Rowling.

What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.

The most challenging piece for me so far has been my short story Judgment Day, which was awarded in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition 2010, because it was my first — and so far, only — attempt to write science fiction. The story is told in the voice of a female robotics scientist living in 2250, and examines how human relationships change as a result of technology, and what remains familiar to those of us living in the 21st century. To make matters worse, the story originally had to be written within a word limit of 500 words, and it was one of my earliest experiences with flash fiction!

Fragments of RiversongWhen I read the stories in Fragments of Riversong, a collection of 12 short stories by Bangladeshi author Farah Ghuznavi, I was very happy to see lively descriptions of old properties and sprawling houses. Having grown up in two sprawling bungalows in my hometown, Ghatsila, in the state of Jharkhand in India, a description—or even a mere mention—of old bungalows fills me with a certain thrill. I begin to connect with the setting and I have this feeling that the author is speaking/writing of something that I have known and experienced. Reading Fragments of Riversong was a bonus, for there were not only old properties and sprawling bungalows, but also a lot of village life in its stories. A part of my family still lives in our ancestral village that I visit regularly, and, at present, I am working in a rural setting. The stories in Fragments of Riversong were more familiar than I had expected them to be. Also, another remarkable thing I noticed in these stories were children. There are children—young girls, young boys—in nearly all the stories. Most stories are either about children or have—despite the third person narrative—a child guiding the reader through the narrative.

In “Escaping the Mirror”, her parents’ big house becomes a sort of a jail for seven-year-old Dia as she tries to escape the advances made by their driver, Minhas. The feeling of frustration of the little child upon realising that her parents trust that abusive man more than they trust their own daughter has been brought out in harrowing detail.

Farah-GhuznaviIn 2010, I was amazed and delighted when my flash fiction piece ‘Judgement Day’ won Highly Commended in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition. At the time, entries to the competition consisted of no more than 600 words; and while those words could in theory be written on any topic, the organisers did provide a theme each year to assist the undecided writer.

In 2010, the theme was ‘Science, Technology and Society’. When I heard about it, my heart sank. I knew very little about writing flash fiction, and even less about science and technology! By default, my focus would have to be on the ‘society’ part of that equation. Anyway, I’m not quite sure where the original idea came from, but I ended up writing a piece exploring how the institution of marriage might change in the future as a result of advances in science and technology, and what might remain disturbingly familiar to us today – a kind of futuristic fable.