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Saturday, June 28, 2008
Star Books Review

Fiction crafted in a new ambience

Junaidul Haque is bowled over by a set of stories

In my last book review I tried to describe the brilliance of Shaheedul Zahir's fiction, especially Dolu Nodir Hawa O Annanya Galpo, and called him one of our best story-tellers. I was happy to pay my tribute to the quietly writing and abruptly dying author. After a lot of thought I decided to write on the stories of Abid Anwar this time. He is slightly older than Zahir and equally brilliant as a literary figure. They have another similarity. The Bangla Academy and our Ekushey Padak department have blissfully ignored them all these years. Much lesser men have been recognised in the past. This makes me all the more affectionate to these highly gifted writers, who are only a few years older than me.

Abid Anwar was born in Katiadi of Kishoreganj on June 24, 1950. His home is not even half a kilometer away from the ancestral home of Satyajit Ray. Abid did his M. Sc. in chemistry from Dhaka University in 1972. He is from Humayun Ahmed's department but there ends the similarity. They are different as writers. Abid Anwar is less popular with general readers but a more serious writer. Serious lovers of poetry and literature respect him and know him very well. It is a very significant fact that he was a commander of the Mukti Bahini in 1971. Very predictably he is progressive and secular. He also studied at the University of Missouri where he did his M.A. in journalism with record marks. He works for ICDDR, B.

Abid Anwar is primarily a poet and a brilliant one at that. He is one of our best poets of the 1970s. He is a literary all-rounder in the Humayun Azad mould. He has written superb essays, especially on poetry and prosody. He is a lyricist of repute. He started writing stories a little late, in 1999 or 2000. But we found his stories remarkable. The work under review, Tin Pakhnar Projapoti O Annanya Galpo, is his only book of stories and contains ten stories written by him during the last few years. Humayun Azad and Shamsur Rahman have also written less than a dozen stories. But all three of them are my favourite storytellers. And Abid Anwar continues to excite us with brilliant stories and poems.

As claimed on the flap of the book, there really are three types of stories in today's Bangladesh. The first type gives us a story only, nothing else. But, like poetry, fiction also demands controlled figurative craftsmanship. The first type of stories has nothing of this sort to offer. In the second type, it is all craftsmanship and no story. The third type is the perfect blending of story-telling and craftsmanship and meets the conditions of successful art. Not many stories belong to the third type. The stories of Tin Pakhnar Projapoti O Annanya Galpo do. The fiction of Syed Shamsul Huq, Syed Manzoorul Islam, Abid Anwar, Shaheedul Zahir and a few others belong to the third type.

Sharifar Jadu-Bastobota (or The Magic Realism of Sharifa) is a superb story depicting the cruel cheating of fake religious men like Peer Hazrat Saifullah Mahmud Farayezi, the male protagonist, whose empire is built on pure robbery. Our simple women suffer at their hands. They lose everything to get children, as in this case. The writer knows our society, our women and our dishonest pretenders very well. His wit and command over his language impress us.

Srijanshil Bajrapat is an even better story. It is a story of ideas. It is very rich figuratively. It explores the meaning of art. An artist, his sweetheart and her art-loving father are the central characters. Whatever is unhealthy and abnormal is art, or so feels the girl's father. Nature contains all kinds of art, some feel. The story will fascinate all serious readers.

Kodali Begum is full of wit and humour but is a serious story on man-woman relationship at the same time. We can even call it a love story. In this regard it can be mentioned that Abid's brilliant sense of humour makes his stories all the more readable. Kodali's husband Akkas is sick and weak and cannot do hard work. They have married out of love. Kodali works hard as a day labourer to make both ends meet. She is immensely beautiful and resembles film star Babita. Naturally a lot of people eye her. Young Surat Ali gets fond of her. She apparently likes him. Akkas gets a little jealous at times. But when he is seriously sick and Kodali fails to cure him, Surat Ali buys him poison in the name of medicine and kills him. This infuriates Kodali and she tactfully kills Surat, buries him and urinates on his grave in anger. But finally Kodali becomes insane and lives the rest of her life as a pagli. A tragic tale of love indeed! Abid knows our poor people quite well.

Muktir Golapi Fita O Iodine Therapy is a metaphorical study of our liberation from Pakistani colonial rule. We are free but our freedom brought us retarded growth like the thirty plus young lady of the story. She behaves and talks like a mentally retarded child.

She asks her uncle, the male protagonist, 'We are independent, aren't we? Why do they bomb and kill people even now?' The readers will certainly receive a mental jolt. Ekti Ganjakhuri Golpo is perhaps the richest story of the book, both structurally and content-wise. In a story of the future, the writer depicts his views about the world order and the true nature of imperialism. His characters include the American President and his wife. He goes to the root and describes the cruel driving out of the Red Indians from their own land by white men. He comes back to the Iraq war. The writer is at his wittiest best here. It is a remarkable addition to Bangla fiction. In Khanchar Manush, he very affectionately throws light on those people who look after the animals in the zoo.

Khalek Mastarer Dojokh-Behesth is a witty story about a patient and his doctor, an aged person and his family. It depicts the problems of a blood pressure patient with compassion. Debotar Grash is a story based on Tagore's immortal poem. Compubhuter Kando is a hilarious story on printing mistakes. It deals with chapar bhuts. The writer appears to be a master on ghosts. He knows a good deal about the printing industry too.

The title story explores the unfathomable and unreachable beauty of love. The male protagonist is a Hindu youth from Kishoreganj, who travels to the US for higher studies. We get a comparative study of the two societies. We learn about the culture shock that Bengalis go through while in the United States. The writer's wit turns the story into a brilliant one, utterly readable.

Abid Anwar, with only one book and ten stories, is one of our foremost writers of stories. The expectation is that he will write more such stories in the future, alongside his soulful poems and thoughtful essays.

Junaidul Haque writes fiction and literary criticism.

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