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|Volume 10 |Issue 23 | June 17, 2011 ||
Songs of Our Swampland
"I have a hole for a mouth” is pronounced by Manju Islam's protagonist of his second novel. The book Song of Our Swampland is based on the war of Independence of Bangladesh. It is also a book about the unanswered questions, unfulfilled dreams that the nation faces after four decades of its independence. That may be the reason why the writer portrays his characters with such deformity. The book is divided into three segments the last of which is titled 'The Island' where the protagonist Kamal takes shelter only to find another character who is a half bodied human known as the 'legless'. Manju Islam is an expatriate living in the United Kingdom for more than three decades. This is the author's fourth book, the first being The Ethics of travels: Marcopolo to Kafka, which is more of an academic book. The second book is Mapm-akers of Spitalfields, a collection of short stories mostly about the vibrant immigrant life of the Bengalis living in England. The third book Burrow is about an illegal Bangladeshi who after having exhausted all avenues to become legal in a foreign land ceases to exist and ends up flying off as a bird. The element of magic is evident in this book. The plight of Bengalis living there is in fact the main theme of Burrow. The time of the book is the 60s and 70s when Bengalis ship-jumped and paved the way for the generation of Bangladeshis living in the United Kingdom today.
After doing a lot of research on the swampland of central Bangladesh Islam collected all the raw materials his second novel needs. Although it is about the war of independence there are a number of questions the author addresses through his protagonist Kamal, born with a deformed face with only a hole in the place of his mouth. He was left on the market wrapped in clothes when he was an infant. The boy was brought up by a teacher, Abbas Mia who had a daughter named Moni Banu. Kamal and Moni Banu grow up together as brother and sister and Abbas Mia bestows them with his thirst of knowledge and makes both of them read all the famous books in his collection. Kamal finds both his lover and his sister in Moni Banu. So as Moni Banu gets married Kamal being speechless cannot express how he feels. The war breaks out, the Pakistani military kills most people in Kamal's village by calling them to the school yard by the Muazzin, the person who calls for the prayer. Kamal and some others escape the horror and take shelter on a boat which had been made by the villagers for imminent danger that would befall on them. So around nine people get on the boat and leave the village. The first part of the novel is titled 'Homestead'.
In the second part of the book 'The Journey' a Bihari girl is brought on the boat from a secluded island, who marries Kamal and becomes part of his life. The question about the part played by the Bihari in the war comes along with her appearance.
The boat is attacked by the army, and almost everyone is brutally killed, Kamal is taken prisoner to a Pakistani Major's house. He is tortured by the army. Finally they are able to run away when the freedom fighters capture the area. Kamal is nursed by Kulsum till he is able to stand on his feet again.
The novel poses many questions on the Liberation War of Bangladesh. It is a well structured book which is difficult to put down once begun as the author does a good job as a story teller. It is from a subaltern's point of view he writes the novel which makes it different from other books of this genre.
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