Leafing Through Bangla Books
Art: Sadia Islam
That was a great time for Bangla literature; at the turn of the 19th century, Rabindranath and his contemporaries were molding Bangla, freed from its tight fisted grammar and form, into something wonderfully free flowing. Engligh was influencing how we wrote, and the shape of our literature changed. The children's books born out of this creative spurt defined all great Bangla children's books to come, from Shibram to Satyajit. This issue we take a look at some of the best Bangla children's writers to start reading with.
One of the three names that Bangla children's literature cannot do without, Upendrakishore Ray was the father of Sukumar Ray and grandfather of Satyajit Ray. He started writing just 50 years after the first Bangla novel was written, and loved experimenting, writing about everything he found interesting – from science books about dinosaurs to Mahabharat for children. His simple, fluid language was perfect for fairy tales. He used eternal characters from Bangla folk stories, the sly fox, the clever little bird or the foolish weaver, and his stories were underlain with hidden meanings.
That era of Bangla children's literature is gone; there are hardly any emerging writers. The last great Bangla children's writer was Satyajit Ray, heir to Upendrakishore's legacy and his Sherlock Holmes inspired Feluda. Kolkata's Shirshendu Mukhopadhay is a more recent writer, who mostly writes stories with wicked plot twists for young adults. His best stories are a strange mix of sci-fi and the supernatural. From Bangladesh, we have books by Shahriar Kabir, usually written a political setting with adolescent heroes, sometimes in the middle of East European revolutions, sometimes busting criminal gangs in the Bangladeshi hill tracts. His short stories about the liberation war and autobiographical pieces about his days at St Gregory's high school, though less known, are still magical. Amongst current writers, we have Muhammad Zafar Iqbal, writing Bangla science fiction and adventure stories, and Anisul Haque, whose funny children's stories are well loved. But when we look into the future, there are no names to point to. The end of Bangla children's literature is a scary notion. In an interview with Anisul Haque, we discuss what might be happening to the stories. Read below.