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The writers on the wall

Eminent Bangladeshi author Selina Hossain shares her views on writers and their work in the society.

`POLITICIANS CAN do wrong, but not the common people, not the writers,' says Selina Hossain, eminent Bangladeshi novelist and essayist. In New Delhi to attend the SAARC Writers Conference - XI, which concludes today at the India International Centre, her beaming smile and compassionate eyes are compelling. The soft voice belies the strength of her words. Her statement is based on the simple premise that unlike politicians, writers and others in various walks of life do not aspire to power. Rather, "they want to live peacefully, they want to sleep at night." Therefore, writers as a community have a duty to bring to people's notice issues of importance to society and to mould opinion in a dispassionate way.

Selina Hossain's reference to politicians is reflective of a widely pervasive opinion of politicians as people who work against society, who can't be trusted to prefer peace to war. It is an opinion not only in circulation at this conference, organised by the Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature - a literary wing of the Delhi-based Academy of Fine Arts and Literature - but among all those who laud the people-to-people measures increasingly being initiated between the nations of the sub-continent.

Role of a writer

"The role of a writer is to create an atmosphere of trust. To create community feeling," she explains. Running the Fareea Lara Foundation, which works for the uplift of the poor through health and education programmes in Bangladesh, she is clear about her duty as a writer. "We must select our work in such a way that it should benefit women, the common people, children," she points out.

But those who aspire to overnight success, she warns, end up helping the cause of the extremists. A case in point is Taslima Nasreen. With her motherly manner, Selina Hossain seems genuinely sad at the career graph of the Bangladeshi author of "Lajja" who shot to fame with the novel that caused a furore across the sub-continent and the world after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in India sparked communal violence in Bangladesh. "She has potential as a writer. She gave a great jolt to society with her work. But she couldn't sustain it. We thought she was doing all these things for society, but now we see she did it all for herself," she comments, reflecting on Taslima Nasreen's later work that engendered more scandal than serious thought.

Author of three anthologies of short stories, five collections of essays and 18 novels, Selina Hossain feels women writers in particular have a role. "Women are the less privileged class of society. So they should write for their uplift. We should make people aware that this a patriarchal system, and that progress in society is not possible if 50 per cent of the population is not given its rights."

While getting a message to one's own people entails writing in one's mother tongue, as Selina Hossain does, there is a different type of task a writer can choose, she feels. This is to "introduce the country at the international level." This is the work in which the English language writers of South Asia and other regions are engaged. With many of her own works translated into English, she points out, "We can't ignore the international language that is English."


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