Volume 3 Issue 03| February 05, 2011|


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Cover Story
From Insight Desk

Selina Hossain
Four Decades of Writing

Selina Hossain, one of the most prolific female authors of the current generation, has been writing novels and editing books for over four decades. She believes that a writer needs to always exercise developing an inner eye for literature. They need to lose themselves in the context and become a part of it to be able to not only describe the feelings, emotions, and events, but also to tell a story for each element.
Rafi Hossain & Hasan Ameen Salahuddin
Photographs: Noor Alam

Selina Hossain, the fourth child in the family, was born to AK Mosharraf Hossain and Mariamonnesa Bakul on 14th June, 1947, in Rajshahi. She started writing in the mid '60s, while attending Rajshahi University. Her first anthology of stories, Uthsho Theke Nirantor, was published in 1969. Following her teacher's advice, she initiated the publication of the compilation herself. The book was more of a move to add points to her resume than anything else. She believed it would make it easier for her to land a job after graduation. Back then, she had not chosen writing as her career. But, that was her first step into the life of being an author. Her spark as a writer only grew bigger.

In the last four decades, Selina has written 31 novels, 11 anthologies of short-stories and 17 children's books. A few of her novels include Hangor Nadi Grenade; Nil Mayurer Jaubon; Nirantar Ghantbadhani; Ghumkatorey Ishwar, and Gayatri Sandhya. Among her short story anthologies are Motijaner Meyera, and Muktijuddher Galpa. She has edited 15 books on gender and women issues, including a gender encyclopedia. Amongst some of her works which have been translated into English are The Plumed Peacock, Warp and Woof, The Shark, The River, The Grenade, and Selected Short Stories. Selina Hossain says that the ability to write is definitely a gift, but a writer would amount to nothing if they do not possess the ability to observe and dissect a situation. She says, “A writer needs to always exercise developing an inner eye for literature. They need to lose themselves in the context and become a part of it to be able to not only describe the feelings, emotions, and events, but also to tell a story for each element.”

Selina is thankful towards her childhood. Growing up beside the river Korotowa, she had the freedom to explore the beauty of Bangladesh and she explained why it was important towards writing. “Have you ever seen snail's eggs?” she asked us. As we both shook our heads sideways in unison, she started to explain and describe the sight. “Along the undergrowth of the river, one might stumble upon, just as I had, a white round ball that is no less beautiful than a flower. But the beauty does not only lie in its appearance, but by how it came to be. It lies in how the mother snail had laid each egg on top on another and made them hold together to form that particular shape. A whole story can be written from just that.”

She spoke about observing a kind of void in some of the writers of the present time. “They are not committed enough to the craft. Sure they have the ability to write, but there remains a communication gap between the literature and the reader. It's as if whatever they are describing is being relayed by means of them. As if someone else experienced the events and the writer was not there to begin with.” Then she described how a writer, evidently not present during the events of a story can still fill that gap. She cited a story by Parvez Hossain, which deals with a pregnant woman from the slums. “This woman goes into labour, and her husband is being arrested at the same time for unknown allegations. She is writhing in pain and her mother is crying by her side. The mother is old and too weak to be of any help to her daughter and the unborn child. A rickshaw-van puller out of humanity offers to help. He takes the mother-soon-to-be to the hospital and leaves her there. The woman is unattended, lying in the balcony of the hospital, and her cramps are still rising to add to the already unbearable pain. Nurses come and go but are not helping her as there has been a clash between criminals and terrorists in the city. The doctors are too busy tending to and saving the lives of the injured involved and the ones who caused the violence to begin with. The mother-soon-to-be is ready to give birth any moment. Her water will break and the child will come into this world. Yet suddenly her pain reconciles. The baby has turned itself around in the womb. Instead of facing head first to the opening, it has turned to offer its behind. It does not want to come into this rotten world!”

The next thing she told us was of the idea behind the piece of writing. She said it was excellent because of how the things were described. Because of how the ending summed it all up through the eyes of an unborn baby that wants no part of this world and it being the way it is with its crime and violence. All of that was not mentioned, but it paints a picture for the reader instantly, and thus the writer becomes successful in producing something worthwhile.

Selina says it is definitely hard to be a writer, and even more so being a woman. “Abdul Hafiz, my Bangla Teacher at Rajshahi College used to always tell me, 'Don't limit yourself to the kitchen and your daily household chores. Build an eye for observation and use it in your writing. Express these discoveries through literature.' But that didn't mean that I had to give up my responsibilities towards my family. As my children grew up, I gave them more than enough time as a mother, and every chance I got I went back to my writing. It was hard because I would not allow myself to write more than two or three pages at a time because of my duties. And it is the same for all women writers around the world. A perfect example would be J K Rowling. Nearly bankrupt after her husband left her with her new born, she used to sit with only one cup of coffee at her favorite café while writing the story of Harry Potter, a character that is now famous globally. But she never left her child behind. The child would be in front of her all the time, entitled to her full attention. Yet, it also depends on the family as well. A writer cannot write if they are constricted and smothered by their families at all times.”

She admitted to the life of a writer being different from that a normal person as well. She said every person leads a different life compared to the next citing how in her family of seven brothers and sisters all are leading different lives. Yet she was not talking of how differently a person leads their life, rather on how they think and have brought about a change in their thinking process. Selina said that a writer needs a place to escape from reality from time to time. And the act of writing is exactly that where they have their own private little world.

Going back to the topic of recent writers, she questioned why they do not exercise their rights to the freedom of immersing themselves into what they are observing. She said it not necessary to explore nature as she had, or travel to different places, but most importantly to exercise their freedom of bringing out their own insights on whatever they are writing on. She further expressed her concerns that not every writer utilizes their available resources properly to their fullest extent.

As we had walked into the living room of such a veteran and prolific writer, we could not help but be awed by the showcase full of awards she has received during her carrier as an author. Of the ones she covets the most, are two awards hanging on the wall opposite to the entrance to the living room where we sat. One was Biswa Bharati Purushkar she received for accounts of part of Rabindranath Tagore's life in Shilaidaha through her eyes in the novel Purnochhobir Mognota. The other, of which she is much more proud of, is the Rabindra Smriti Puroshkar for the novel Gaitry Sandhya given by the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, Delhi. Among her many other national and international awards are the Bangla Academy Award (1980), the Alaol Puroshkar (1981), the Philips Literary Prize (1994), and the Ekushey Padak (2009). Selina also received a D. Lit. (Honoris Causa) from Rabindranath Bharati University in 2010. Her novel Hangor Nadi Grenade, based on the Liberation War, has been made into a film.

* Kobej Lethel by Moinul Ahsan Saber
* Lokkhindorer Odristo Jatra by Jhorna Rahman
* Boyon & Holud Meye Shimanto by Papri Rahman
* Tomosh, Abinashi Ayojon & Protima Upakkhan by Monju Sarkar
* Ondho Joddha by Akimun Rahman
* Naamhin Gotrohin, Attoja O Ekti Korobi Gach, Ma Meyer Shongshar, Agun Pakhi & Jibon Ghoshe Agun by Hasan Azizul Haque
* Amra Ekti Golper Jonno Opekkha Korchi & Ondhokare Kichui Dekha Jacchena Bole by Ahmed Mostafa Kamal
* Ondho Kothamala, Megheder Ghorbari, Uttorkal, Khachay & Nankuberbodhi by Rashid Haider
* Matir Transistor, Jinner Konya & Ami Ar Amin Jokhon Azimpur E Thaktam by Shahnaz Munni
* Amar Joto Glani, Boroi Nishshongo, Uttom Purush, Ekti Laal Golap & Purbapor by Rashid Karim
* Khoabnama & Chile Kothar Sepai by Akhtaruzzaman Ilias
* Ojogor by Horipodo Dotto
* Dhobol Jotsna, Shilay Shilay Agun, Shurjo Shobuj Rokto & Bong theke Bangla by Rizia Rahman
* Dunirbito Kaal, Shitangshu Tor Shomosto Kotha, Uriye Niye Jak Kalo Megh, Fire Jay Jotsnay & Bohena Shubatash by Joti Prokash Dotto
* Urukku, Krush Kathe Konya, Jokhon Char Pashe Bati Gulo Nibhe Ashche & Ure Jay Nishi Pokkhi by Nasreen Jahan
* Ajonmo Porobashi, Biruddho Somiron & Jotsna Koreche Ari by Purobi Basu
* Rokto Golap, Prachin Bongsher Nissho Shontan, Nishiddho Loban, Mohashunne Poran Master & Brishti O Bidrohigon by Syed Shamsul Haque
* Crime and Punishment, Brothers Karamazov & Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Her all time favourites are Rabindranath Tagore, Manik Bandopadhyay & Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay.
She also enjoys novels by Milan Kundera, Chinua Achebe, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Kimani Njogu and Arundhuti Roy.



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