An afternoon of magic and nostalgia
The Department of English and Humanities, BRAC University, organized a Storytelling programme on the 26th of September 2006, in the Mohakhali Campus of the University. The programme was presented by poet Shamim Azad, a renowned Bangladeshi writer whose name was once very common in the pages of the magazine Bichitra. Shamim Azad is a bilingual writer, story-teller and performance poet and has received awards in both Bangladesh and Britain. Her published works include twelve books of fiction, essays and poetry, and two bilingual plays. Her poems have also appeared in several anthologies. Currently, she lives in London, where she has been living for nearly two decades now. She is actively involved in the literary scene in London, and also works as a teacher and freelance writer.
The programme was inaugurated by Professor Ferdous Azim, the Chairperson of the English Department. Shamim Azad started by saying that she considers it a privilege and honour to be able to perform in front of fellow Bangladeshis, many of whom are her lifelong friends. She also thanked the Bishwa Shahitya Kendra for volunteering to help with her performance. Shamim Azad explained her role in Britain as that of an Ambassador Heritage, telling stories of our heritage for their people, in their language. While talking about the country commonly referred to as “Bilat”, she and some of the volunteers broke into the song “amar shopney dekah rajkonna thakey, shaat shagor er parey”. Soon the whole audience was hooked on the tune and started singing along.
This was followed by the poet telling a story of how many of our ancestors used to jump ship in order to get into the land of dreams that Britain has always been for so many in our part of the world. The story ended in a song written by her, and once again the audience was singing along even before they realized it.
Then, the mood switched as Shamim Azad dexterously narrated the age-old story of the grandmother who goes to visit her granddaughter, and is threatened by foxes and crocodiles on her way. The often heard story was nevertheless given a whole new feel through the narration skills, and made lively by the enthusiastic participation of the audience. The narrator actually made a point of going up to each member of the audience, urging them to sing along at crucial moments in the story. She even made the students provide the sound effects for the different movements in the story, like knives swishing, dogs barking or people stomping feet. Once the story was over, she explained that this was one of the many folktales of Bangladesh that she regularly performs for her performances in Britain.
She then recited one of her poems about kalboishakhi, reliving the memories of a little girl and how she viewed the storm while seeking refuge from her grandmother.
During a short break after the poem, the writer recounted her experience performing in various occasions, in museums, libraries and stages in the UK. During this period of reminiscing, she mentioned how the world seemed to change after the 9/11 incident. This change was not so much due to the terrorist attack itself as it was due to the blatant disregard shown by the most powerful country in the world towards everyone else. From this point, she moved on to the last poem for the event one about politicians and their manipulative techniques. As she recited the poem, music was playing in the background. The poem had a catchy tune, almost comparable to modern day rap music. Although the poem starts in a dark mood, it ends with expressing hope about the future generation of the country. The event ended there, but there was still one surprise. During the question answer session, a song was played in the background. Afterwards, the poet let us know that this song was based on a poem of hers, composed by a second generation of Bangladeshi youth for whom Bangladesh is the country their parents came from, and Bangla is a second language.
Yet they display their affection for the language with the interest they express about it. It was good to know that not all those who leave Bangladesh forget it forever. There are those who are trying to do what they can to get our culture the proper publicity even while settling abroad. Hats off to Shamim Azad, and thanks to BRAC University for a wonderful story-telling session!
(R) thedailystar.net 2006