Literature in “O Paar Bangla” — the other side of Bengal — which drew inspiration from Rabindranath Tagore, the poet-philosopher of undivided India, is grappling with threats and intimidation from extremist elements negating the spirit of literary movement of Bangladesh, rooted in the country’s freedom struggle. Young Bangladeshi authors, on the other hand, are trying to promote secular and modern values through their writings.
Bangladeshi author-dramatist Anisul Hoque said at the Jaipur Literature Festival here on Saturday that the Islamist influence, if any, on the literature of his country was restricted to the period between 1947 and 1952, when there was a “euphoria” about the creation of Pakistan and the language issue had not cropped up with ferocity.
“Things changed dramatically when [Pakistan founder] Mohammed Ali Jinnah came to Dhaka and declared Urdu as the only state language of the new country. It paved the way for the Bengali uprising. The language movement, which began in February 1952, culminated in the independence of [the then] East Pakistan in 1971,” said Mr. Hoque in conversation with two Indian authors.
The session on “E Paar Bangla, O Paar Bangla: Across borders” at the lit-fest was devoted to the subject of porous borders of culture and arts between the two Bengals, defying political boundaries of India and Bangladesh. The panellists discussed the traditions of Bengali literature from Kolkata to Dhaka.
Indian authors Radha Chakravarty and Arunava Sinha, who have been translating famous and lesser-known Bengali works into English, threw light on Bengali literature’s position in multi-lingual India, emergence of women writers, circulation and readership of books and innovations in Bengali vocabulary and diction.
Mr. Hoque pointed out that his country, which had adopted Tagore’s song “Amar Shonar Bangla,” composed in 1905 during the British partitioning of Bengal as its national anthem, had acquired the legendary poet “through blood and tears.” “We believe that Tagore would never have approved of Partition, had he been alive in 1947,” he said.
“This legacy is threatened when Taslima Nasreen is forced to live in exile or [literature professor] Humayun Azad is stabbed in 2004 and later dies,” said Mr. Hoque. Hardliners targeting “controversial” authors was a reality which the Bangladeshi writers had to accept, he added.
Mr. Hoque said his novel, “Maa” — the English translation of which has been published as “Freedom’s Mother” — had sold 1 lakh copies since 2003. “Bangladeshis are very fond of reading. There is lot of craze among youngsters for new books. They especially like the books of Indian Bengali authors,” he said.
Ms. Chakravarty, who has co-edited “The Essential Tagore” as an anthology of Tagore’s works, said the literature in West Bengal had moved ahead since the Tagore era, even as the first Indian Nobel laureate remained a major point of reference. “Tagore himself would not have liked creativity to stagnate,” she said when asked to comment on the literary trends after Independence.
Bengali litterateurs like Mahasweta Devi, Sunil Gangopadhyay and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay continue to inspire the young generation, said Ms. Chakravarty while emphasising on the innovations in literature, in keeping with the changing world.