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Wizards of words

Bangla, a language almost a thousand years old in itself, has an enriched history of penmanship that dates well back to the 9th century. From the ancient Aryadev to Anisul Hoque present day- Bangla literature has indeed come a long way and seen many talented masters at work. This week we focus on some of the most influential authors of Bangla literature-

Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay (1876-1938):
Being a writer born in the era of big names like Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and Rabindranath Tagore already makes it understandably difficult to have your own style without getting influenced by their majesty. S.C. Chatterji was one of the very few who achieved that feat and that too with a distinctive humane touch to his writings despite the bounds of teeth-chattering 'Shaadhu Bhaasha'. From the heartrending 'Mahesh' to the anti-racist 'Bilashi' to the romantic 'Devdas'- Sharat Babu's pen always spoke against social superstitions and oppression especially against women, as was so common in those days. A personal style of his was his occasional humorous jabs out of nowhere in the midst of monotonously contrasting Shaadhu script that send the readers reeling back with laughter and make them appreciate his brilliance even more.

Syed Mujtaba Ali (1904-1974):
He is arguably one of the best writers this sub-continent has ever produced. He might not have achieved any sort of recognition for his works, but his outstanding way of presentation is still a landmark. To mention his great works we will have to mention “Deshe Bideshe”, a tour diary of his based on his long stay in Afghanistan, and “Sobnom”, a remarkable romantic novel. Both of these two books are like jewels in anyone's bookshelf. His short stories and comical essays are some sort of benchmark for anyone trying to be humorous. Witty comments and sarcastic dialogues are his speciality. Read ANY of his writings and you will get immediately hooked up. The Bishwa Shahitya Kendro has published two volumes of his short stories and belles-letters. They can be considered parts of a great collection.

Selina Hossain (born 1947):
If there existed a custom of using brilliant literary works to decorate homes with like painting masterpieces, Selina Hossain's works would surely top the list. Reading her books truly feels like experiencing art: as if viewing an endless canvas where the artist paints away different stories with words of different shades and colours. 'Hangor Nodi Grenade', 'Japita Jibon', 'Mohinir Biye', 'Anobic Adhar'- each and every one of them reflects her unique writing style, exquisite in poetic beauty and in a completely different league of its own.

Humayun Ahmed (born 1948):
The name Humayun Ahmed is enough for anyone interested in reading modern Bangla writings. His mystery figures Misir Ali and Himu, who deal in logic and anti-logic respectively, are the two most favourite characters in Bangladesh, according to a research conducted 3 years ago. His mercurial figure Shuvro has appeared in some novels also. The true skill of Mr Humayun Ahmed lies on his simplistic way of story telling and some good humorous dialogues. It is perhaps this that attracts the huge amount of fans. Apart from his novels, his short stories and science fictions also present a deep insight of human mind and some great philosophy. He is truly a genius of literature for the general people. Every book in his 'Himu' and 'Misir Ali' genre is worth reading. Trust me, entertainment is guaranteed.

Muhammed Zafar Iqbal (born 1952):
Younger brother of the aforementioned, this individual is also the most successful writer for the kids and the young-adults. His science fiction books are somewhat legendary, in the sense that he is the leader of the way of science fiction in Bangladesh. His teenage novels are also the most popular ones here. As for writing style, his has a magical quality to it that instantly takes readers, especially young ones, to a different world- a world they can relate to, a world they love being in. They say you have to be young to understand the young. Now nearly in his sixties, this man must still be a child at heart to achieve a feat like that with such ease!

The art of Bangla writing and its creative artisans have enchanted and inspired book-lovers of all times. The enchantment continues till this date, as new books are written and people all over the country gather in boi melas to get their hands on them. We have presented only the most famous authors here, but remember there are still masterpieces from other writers too. Alauddin al-Azad, Meer Musharraf Hussain, Manik Bandopadhyay, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Sirshendu Mukhupadhyay and others have also presented some true classics. Keep your eyes open for pieces from them too and explore the depths of Bangla literature.

By Raisa Rafique and Jawad

Book Reivew

Unaccustomed Earth

With an Indian movie making a glorious debut at the Academy Awards and walking away with eight of the much-coveted gold statuettes, and yet another South Asian author bagging the Man Booker Prize last year, it's clear that the Western audiences aren't quite done with their fascination over the masala and mysticism of the Subcontinent. Readers here are a little more circumspect when praising these works; the exotic appeal isn't quite the same for us. The angst of the Immigrant desi? Ho hum. The aroma of beef vindaloo evoking memories of home? Next!

Which is why, despite being something of a fan of Jhumpa Lahiri, yours truly decided to put off for the longest time, the reading of Unaccustomed Earth. Lahiri enjoyed moderate success with her debut novel The Namesake, but there are many that maintain that she is truly at her best when writing short stories, as evidenced in her Interpreter of Maladies. The Pulitzer winning Bengali-American author returns to her forte in this new publication.

The eight stories in this collection manage to escape the cliches of South Asian fiction, choosing instead to touch upon issues tangential to that of the Immigrant Dilemma. Each story is not so much about the trauma of being 'transplanted' into a new culture as it is about finding a sense of stability and belonging that one can identify as 'home'. The characters in each story are coming to terms with a personal crisis that has little to do with geography. In the title story, Ruma, despite having married an American, is unconsciously mirroring her mother's actions in following her man to an unfamiliar territory, and trying to raise a child who at times feels completely alien to her. After the death of her mother, her father is moving on, and finding himself in the uncomfortable position of not knowing how to break the news to his daughter. "Hell-heaven" talks about a woman who belatedly realises that her mother has harboured a secret passion for a young graduate student. In "Only Goodness" a sister has to bear the cross of an alcoholic younger brother, a fact that tests the limits of her responsibility. A personal favourite happens to be the last three stories, grouped under 'Hema and Kaushik' that charts the lives, loves, hopes and dreams of the two protagonists, alternately tied and separated by fate.

Writing with a kind of detachment free from judgement, Lahiri paints touching pictures in each story, where the pain and passion of each of these complex characters ring sharp and true in the absence of the curry flavours and magical realism that seem to be part and parcel in most stories of this type. The situations each character is placed in, and the reactions to these situations seem to transcend borders and barriers of race and religion, and are all the more poignant because of it.

Seen as a whole, this book will make you smile and cry, and leave you feeling thoroughly drained, and yet peculiarly satisfied at the same time. If you haven't read it already, the next time the traffic-light book vendor waves a copy at you, you could definitely consider giving in.

By Sabrina F Ahmad

Beating the Block

I woke up in the morning determined to get several things done. I had been on vacation for more than a month now but had hardly finished any of the things on my to-do list. Although technically I was free from all commitments during summer, I seemed to find no extra time left. I got myself a bottle of water so that I wouldn't have to get up later, settled myself into a comfortable spot and turned on my laptop. Opening a new page on Word, I turned my phone on silent mode, positioned my fingers on the keyboard and then…nothing. My mind was blank.. My phone flashed right now and I quickly received the call. After chatting with my friend for 15 minutes, I kept the phone and tried again to jot down something but nothing came to me. I wrote down a sentences but it didn't make sense. My mom called me just then and I scrambled to her in relief. I came back to my computer to see the same blank page staring at me. After some minutes I remembered some other things I could get done and went to do them. The 'brilliant' piece I had envisioned in my mind never got written.

Writer's block. It is the bane of every writer, good or bad, professional and amateur alike. It can strike at any time and without warning. Once caught there's no telling when you will be cured of it and its treatment is dubious as well. I had suffering from Writer's Block, or WB as I shall call it (as only the most serious diseases get acronyms like SARS or AIDS) for several months now and I was keen to come out of it. I knew it would take me time to get the beginning of any article I wanted down but I got so easily distracted each time that it wouldn't work out. Finally imagining my boss's face at Rising Stars if I missed another deadline I did what I remembered my English teacher in fifth grade used to tell us to do, write down the first thing that comes to your mind about what you have to write about. Even if it stinks, it's better than the bare page taunting you. When you get the flow going, you find that there are more things you can write down. Later o, you can always edit the piece or replace phases with better suited ones. If needed, scratch the whole write-up and write another one. By then hopefully you'll have a better idea of how you want to write your article.

If there are a list of topics that you have to choose from, like when writing college essays, a useful tip is to remember not to choose the topic you like the most but the one you cn write about the most. If you do make the former choice than you'll find that after a few paragraphs or such, you have nothing else to say. To make sure this doesn't happen, always try to write on matters you think you can write about or have sufficient knowledge. Personal experience with the issue gives write-ups a more individual feel. Good research on the subject will also enhance the quality of the piece while also adding to the word count.

The treatment for my case od the WB, which was pretty serious, was to write an article on the WB which I hope I've done successfully.If there are any of you out there who are also suffering from the same malady, don't panic or run screaming to your mother. Stay calm and try to write simply anything that comes to your mind, and together with a bit of luck we can banish the WB forever.

By Nisma Elias



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