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        Volume 11 |Issue 38| September 28, 2012 |


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Published from the Streets of Dhaka

Bengal Lights, a new local literary journal, promises to become a beacon for the region's literature enthusiasts

AM Hussain

Dhaka has flirted with the idea of having its own literary journal before. Six Seasons Review (SSR), published by the University Press Limited, fizzled out after two/three issues, and with it died the country's one and only such venture. And it all happened a decade ago.

The new journal in the block is Bengali Lights (BL), which, supervised by 14 luminaries of the Southasian sub-continent's literary world, is going to be published by the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (Ulab). What sets the BL apart is its online version (www.bengallights.com) where an array of beautiful flash fiction and some charming creative non-fiction have already been published to the delight of the readers.

Khademul Islam, editor of the BL, thinks anything in print nowadays, whether a literary or a fashion magazine or newspaper or a serious scientific journal, has to have its website or web presence. The web's advantages are a global reach, an ability to almost instantaneously reach its audience, and a format that allows various mixes of text and graphics to be 'in play', so to speak.

"For Bengal Lights, a literary journal being published from Bangladesh and subject almost automatically to existence on the margin and other cultural distances, not to utilise the advantages of these factors, would be foolhardy" he says. "The positive reasons are that since so far a serious literary journal in English from Bangladesh has not had a completely dedicated website, this allows us to present our writers and writing in ways that have not been so far seen in Bangladesh."

Islam thinks web opens the door to experiment. "Such as, say, videos of literary events accompanied by writer interviews, added to which could be their works along with instant feedback from readers," he says, "That could present a multidimesional and comprehensive look at writers, events and writing that is not presently available, at least not here. We at Bengal Lights are not there yet in these terms, but the possibilities are exciting."

Islam says that the BL was born out of a need for a forum for Bangladeshis writing in English. "We do have, contrary perhaps to a widespread belief, some fairly decent writers and writing, but hardly any place to get published," he says, adding, "At the Hay festival last year in Dhaka, I, Professor Kaiser Haq of Dhaka University and Dr K Anis of Ulab got together and decided to come out with Bengal Lights."

Unlike many literary journals of its kind, the BL doesn't consider anything off-limits--no location, no writer, no genre is off-limits, it welcomes all writers--"established or beginning, grizzled veterans or fresh-faced newbies, versed in the classics or cyber-narratives." Islam explains, "We Bangladeshis who want and attempt to write in English must no longer feel isolated and cut off from the rest of this vivacious, burgeoning enterprise. We should be able to define some of this territory as ours."

Islam thinks our English writing also has to break out of its class confines, talk about and represent a society and community that extends way beyond the interests and habits of English-learning and -speaking groups and thereby be recognised as something that truly extends and reflects our reality and consciousness. By the same token, a deep-rooted and wrong-headed hostility to English in parts of our society and literati must now end. These attacks have now no basis in our reality or polity and merely serve a ritual function for the defence of an outmoded and over generalised way of thinking.

Armed with the support of the Ulab, Islam hopes that the journal will not have to embrace SSR's fate. Islam believes that the BL can realistically hope to go in for the long haul. "After we decided to go ahead, the three of us contacted our various writer and poet friends inside and outside Bangladesh, from Amit Chaudhri in India to Professor Fakrul Alam at Dhaka University, and formed an advisory board," he says.

Even though it is going to be published from Dhaka, the journal plans to give voice to the writers of the Southasian sub-continent, the presence of Amit Chaudhri and Muneeza Shamsie in the advisory board speak of a wider audience. One can only hope that taking the cue from Bengal Lights new literary journals and ezines will come out from the country, making this part of the world a new hub of literary talents.


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