<%-- Page Title--%> Literature <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 128 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

October 31, 2003

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An Unpretentious Writer

Shamim Ahsan

Her first creative impulses found expressions in rhymes, Brishti poriya jay/mushol dharay…….. She was only 8 then. By 15 she was writing full-fledged novels and at 18 she wrote Bot tolar Upannayash that created quite a stir when it was published in 1958. Her adolescence was spent reading Tagore, Sharat Chandra, Gorky, Shaw, Galsworthy and Marx Engels. A novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, short story writer Razia Khan has not written enormously, but whatever she has written will be treasured along with the immortal works of Bangla literature.

Though her first love was writing and literature she didn't limit herself just there. She took great interest in acting and performed on both the radio and the stage. She also earned fame for recitation and as a presenter on the radio. An exceptionally brilliant student of English literature, Razia Khan stood first class first in both Honours and Masters, went to University of Birmingham, UK, on a scholarship from the British Council for higher studies. On her return she joined the editorial board of the then Pakistan Observer (renamed the Bangladesh Observer after the independence), but soon left it to join the English Department of Dhaka University which set her career path. Among all these she has, however, continued with her first and ever-lasting love writing.

Recently Razia Khan was awarded Anyanna Literaure Award for 2003. The award giving ceremony was held at Sufia Kamal Auditorium on October 13. Chief guest Professor Kabir

Chowdhury, special guest Prof. Syed Manzorool Islam and renowned novelist Selina Khan discussed her work and life.

Razia Khan proved her prowess as a capable writer quite early. She was just 18 when she wrote her major novel Bot tolar Upannayash. In spite of having all the elements of a super sentimental, emotion-filled, mellow love story Bot tolar upannayash never becomes one. The mark of an original writer was distinct the way relationships between men and women are handled, with surprising maturity.
She had both the profundity of thought as well as the mastery over the language to scrutinise this relationship in all its complexity and variation. In Bot tolar Upannayash the writer depicts love in two different colours through the two couples, Moin and Sumita and Heti and Ahsan. While love between the first couple is that of the ideal kind and platonic, the love affair between Anglo-Indian Heti and Ahsan is more of a physical kind. Heti, who is kind of a scandalous character with many disreputable relations, sincerely loves Ahsan and bears his child with the full knowledge that Ahsan won't marry her. Khan doesn't condemn this affair, rather portrays the character of Heti with such sympathy and her love with Ahsan with such affection that the reader is also made to respect their (Heti and Ahsan) love affair rather than be critical of it.

More often than not Razia Khan's novels are 'novels of characters' in the sense that it is the characters the novel evolves around and develops on. The story-line is often of secondary importance and is used more for giving an extra dimension or an added perspective to the understanding of the characters. Characters are seen continually indulging into thinking, taking imaginary trips into the long past, fondling sweet memories and nursing hidden sorrows. In this way the writer allows us to follow the inner actions of the protagonists as they reminisce their past. The characters develop through their inner conflicts, the play between hope and disenchantment. In both Bot tolar upannayash and Draupadi the writer adopts this technique.

Razia Khan receiving the Anannya Literary Award, 2003.

Themes that recur in her writing include Isolation, disenchantment, disillusionment “because these are the net results of my life”, she says. Individualism and social norms are often at loggerheads in her novels. In many of her works she astutely depicts how man's natural instincts are crippled by pretentious social values, how a social institution like marriage, when it fails, destroys the very life force of an individual. In Bot tolar Upannayash we see in spite of their intense love for each other--Moin, a Muslim loves Sumita, a Brahmin Hindu-- religious backgrounds stand in the way to the fruition of their love into marriage. Though they final overcome this hurdle in the end, the long bargain pushes Sumita towards the edge of insanity. In Draupadi we see how a failed marriage eats upon the very vitality of Noyon, making her languish from its inescapable bondage.

The protagonists in Khan's novels are never simple,
straightforward flat characters, but complex and multi-dimensional characters. Like the modern man he is restless, incapable of being naively content with life; he tries to understand life and seeks find his own identity in life's larger scheme. Both Sohrab and Noyon, two of the principal characters in Draupadi, and Moin in Bot tolar upannayash are seen dig deep into their consciousness in their attempt to understand themselves, to realize their relationship with others. While talking about chracterisation in Khans's novels Islam refers to this pernnienal self-quest which he says is markedly evident in many of her protagonists, perhaps because of the writer's own quest to understand herself.

The unusual settings of the stories, perhaps a result of
extensive travel around the globe, set her novels apart. Different cultures interplay with each other giving a unique dimension to the stories. Khan used London, Dhaka and Kolkata as the settings of her novel Draupadi much before Sunil Gangopadhya used them in his novel Purbo Pashchim.

Syed Manzorool Islam also reminisces his class room experiences with Razia Khan as his teacher and later colleague. She merged with whatever she used to teach. She brought with her her passion into the classroom. Razia is not only one of the major writers of Bangla literature throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, but a significant writer of English literature, Islam says. He mentions Khan's 'Argus, Under Anesthesia' a book of her English poems as remarkable.

Professor Kabir Chowdhury describes her writing as “unpretentious”, which he believes is a reflection of her own character. As in her life Razia Khan never shies away from speaking her mind, she boldly writes what she believes in. In his opinion modernity is what easily distinguishes Razia's writing from many others writing during the same time.

In her close to 50 years long writing career Khan has authored a good number of novels. Some of the notables ones are Anukalpa, He Mohajibon, Padobik, Draupadi, Brhastonir, Shikhor Himaddrir,, Bandi Bihongo, among notable books of poems are Sonali Ghasher Desh, in English 'Argus under Anaeshasia', 'Cruel April'; more than a hundred short stories and essays and a play Nongra natok. Razia Khan has received all the significant awards for literature: the Bangla Academy Award in 1975, Ekushey Padak in 1997, Kamor Mushtari Padak in 1985, Lekhika Sangha Gold Medal in 1998, and Anannya Shahitya Purushkar in 2003. She also bagged a PEN prize for a play.

Her latest preoccupation includes writing a Bangla book of poetry and an English novel on “the conflict between good and evil”. Aptly named 'Ishwar and Iblis' (God and the Devil) , about the novel says Khan “these are primeval concepts but they are operating forcibly in human life. “I have chosen these theme in the pattern of a story from modern life.”

No doubt Razia Khan with all her remarkable contribution to Bangla literature hasn't received the praise and appreciation she deserves. “It must have made Razia a bit Obhimani, but I hope she won't nurse her obhiman any more but come among us and lighten us with her enlightening presence,” Kabir Chowdhury says in his concluding lines. We cannot agree more.


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