Bangladeshi Writing in English: The Early Bards and Contemporary Poets
BWE came into being after the Independence of Bangladesh in 1971. There is no authorized list of writers for this new literary genre. I have, however, tried to make a rough outline of one, which includes the names of writers who are poets, novelists, short story writers and who produce other types of work with literary merit in English, and, I might add, whose work has earned them some recognition.
Razia Khan’s (1936—2011) poetry books ‘Argus Under Anaesthesia’ (1976) and ‘Cruel April’ (1977) attest to her pre-eminence among English poets in Bangladesh. Farida Majid’s anthology of English poems ‘Thursday Evening Anthology’ (1977) established her as an important literary figure on the London poetry scene in the seventies. Kaiser Haq’s poetic output is quite substantial, including ‘Black Orchid’ (1996), and ‘Published in the Streets of Dhaka: Collected poems1966—2006’. Haq is a consummate artist who paints the contemporary Bangladeshi scene with powerful imagination and artistic precision. Feroz Ahmed-ud-din’s ‘Handful of Dust’ (1975) vividly portrays the loss of vision in contemporary life. Nuzhat Amin Mannan’s ‘Rhododendron Lane’ (2004) is rich with imagery and has a distinctive style. Syed Najmuddin Hashim’s ‘Hopefully the Pomegranate’ (2007) draws allusions from European mythology, makes use of biblical anecdotes and weaves them into local stories. Rumana Siddique’s ‘Five Faces of Eve: Poems’ (2007) reflects the timeless experience of being a woman through the symbol of her biblical ancestor — Eve. Nadeem Rahman’s ‘Politically Incorrect Poems’ (2004) deals with post-liberation war themes and is typified by a highly individualistic attitude, sharp social sensibility, and keen political observation. Mir Mahfuz Ali’s poetry has appeared in London Magazine, Poetry London, Poetry Review and PN Review and he was shortlisted for the New Writing Ventures Award in 2007. Apart from writing poetry, he is an active member of Exiled Writer’s Ink and is working to promote the creative expression of diaspora writers.
Bangladeshi Fiction in English: A Wave of Gripping Narratives
The realm of BWE is being dominated by a host of talented novelists.
Neamat Imam’s ‘The Black Coat’ (2013) is a controversial novel, which seeks to engage with the politics and history of Bangladesh. It is “a dark and dystopian portrait of Bangladesh under Prime Minister Sheikh Mujib” . Farah Ghuznavi’s debut short story collection, ‘Fragments of Riversong’ (2013) vividly portrays the trials and tribulations of people in post-war Bangladesh. Her stories “tackle day-to-day issues with sincerity and realism without being judgmental or moralistic….” . Maria Chaudhuri’s debut book ‘Beloved Strangers’ (2014) is a memoir which has “a duality of texture and meaning, [and] the gentle unraveling of a not-unusual childhood in Dhaka with the later intensity of her adult experience” . Zia Haider Rahman has earned huge critical acclaim after the publication of his debut novel ‘In the Light of What We Know’ (2014), which, in Salman Rushdie’s view, is an “everything novel”. Set against the backdrop of economic crisis and the war in Afghanistan, the novel is “a wide-ranging examination of global politics, rootlessness and post-colonial guilt that travels from Bangladesh to Oxford, Kabul to New York, and that has already drawn comparisons with Sebald, Conrad and Waugh” . Razia Sultana Khan’s ‘The Good Wife and Other Tales of Seduction’ (2007) is a collection of fourteen short stories based on the day-to-day lives of people in Bangladesh whose roles are characterized by tradition, culture, gender, politics and religion.
Even I have had my fair share of success within the literary circles of Bangladesh. My debut short story collection ‘Nineteen seventy one and other stories’ was published in 2011.
A Great Future Ahead
Although ‘Bangladeshi writing in English’ is a nascent branch of literature, it may have a great future. Bangladeshi English writers are placed to play a role similar to the writers of India or of Pakistan or of Sri Lanka. Take, for instance, the annual Hay Festival of literature in Dhaka that began in 2011. Its existence encourages hopes of success for Bangladeshi writers composing pieces in English. This vast global literary gathering, i.e. rounds of literary talks and discussions, recitations, and the exchange of ideas and information helps prepare a lot of ground for BWE writers. Still, the practice of creative writing in English remains confined to particular quarters of society. To allow the genre to grow independently, BWE has to be liberated from the literary coterie, i.e. its small circle of writers, publishers and admirers. It has to be rescued from the close confines of academia; namely, the varsity English departments and the English medium schools and colleges. English newspapers should not be limited to “publishing only a literature page, but should also provide active support and an enabling platform” . The scarcity of Bangladeshi writers in English necessitates bringing out anthologies of creative writing to help facilitate the emergence and growth of fresh talent. Literary magazines and journals should choose writing based solely on merit to promote the development of BWE.
The BWE genre could be a global vehicle for national themes, one where indigenous subjects could gain access to universal literary circles and exchange in a discourse about the growing sensibilities of the global audience.