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Saturday, December 3, 2011
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Rashid Karim: voice of modern fiction

This is the way the world ends, warns one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century. It ends not with a bang but a whimper.

Rashid Karim, one of our finest novelists, a brilliantly creative man during his youth, in middle age and in early old age, died at the age of eighty six last week, having battled paralysis for the last nineteen years. He could not write a single word during that long period, usually quite productive for a writer. Rabindranath Tagore and Leo Tolstoy are bright examples.

Rashid Karm was born in Kolkata in 1925. He did his BA from the Calcutta Islamia College. After the partition of the sub-continent in 1947, his family moved to Dhaka.

He began writing during the British period, continued during the Pakistan period but wrote his major novels during the Bangladesh period. It was in independent Bangladesh that his career as a writer reached its zenith.

Rashid Karim penned his first story at the age of fourteen. So he began quite early. But his first story was published in 1942 in Mohammed Nasiruddin's Saogat. After that he did not write till 1961, when began the second phase of his writing career. His first novel Uttam Purush was published that year. It made him widely known and brought him the prestigious Adamjee Award. Two years later Prashanna Pashan instantly turned him into a major novelist of the Bangla language. Again he went into hibernation, this time for a decade.

After the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, he published his epic novel, Amar Jato Glani, in 1973. This novel helped his fame reach its peak. Till this period he was known as a gifted writer who wrote less but wrote very well. But from then on he wrote and published regularly. Prem Ekti Lal Golap was published in 1978.

Rashid Karim wrote Ekaler Rupkatha, Sonar Patharbati, Baroi Nishanga, Mayer Kachhe Jachchi and a few other novels during the next decade. Lunch Box and two other novels were published in the early 1990s. He also has a collection of well-written short stories, Prothom Prem, and three books of essays.

Rashid Karim, younger brother of Abu Rushd, another major Bangladeshi novelist, primarily painted the middle class society of Calcutta and Dhaka. His characters are urban people. He dealt with the period from the 1930s to the 1980s. We get a glimpse of village life for a short while in some of his novels but there is no detailed description of village life anywhere. At the same time he is at ease dealing with the subconscious mind of the characters more than their actions or society itself. Amar Jato Glani is perhaps his masterpiece. He successfully uses the stream of consciousness method in this novel. He follows the personal experience of the male protagonist in the socio-political milieu of the novel. The psycho-analysis is splendid here.

Prem Ekti Lal Golap is also one of his most accomplished novels. The actions and the subconscious thoughts of the characters are mingled brilliantly. Rashid Karim is at his creative best here. However, the novels in the final phase of his career appear to be a little repetitive. Autobiographical elements appear regularly in his novels. But he has the enviable ability of turning them into sublime art.

Rashid Karim was a close friend of Shamsur Rahman, Bangladesh's premier modern poet. He was himself a noted modern voice of Bangla fiction. No one wrote better about the modern urban man. No one explored the inner soul of man so carefully and with such compassion.

Junaidul Haque writes fiction and is an essayist.

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