I missed the whole Humayun-Shaon-Gultekin drama because of a microbe attack. But even if I were well, I probably would have been baffled by the whole thing. Perhaps because I had little touch with Bangladesh during the 1990s, when Humayun-mania was at its peak, I really have no opinion matters like this, which seem to animate most literate Bangladeshis. And I can very easily understand why Humayun Ahmed would not have been a news in Paschim Banga (let alone rest of India).
I was, however, quite amused to see bunch of talking heads in TV — sorry, don’t remember the channel, nor do I have any link, you’ll just have to take my word for it — bemoaning the fact that ‘our Humayun isn’t better loved by them, even though we love their Sunil-Samaresh et al’. I mean, seriously, how childish can one get — it reminded me of my two year old who cries when other kids don’t want to share their toys.
That may have been childish. But given our tragic history, there is nothing childish about this:
পশ্চিমবঙ্গে হুমায়ূন আহমেদের বইয়ের কোনো চাহিদা নেই। অথচ তিনি বাংলাদেশে একজন মেগাস্টার। দুই বাংলার সাহিত্যপ্রেমী পাঠকের কাছে গ্রহণযোগ্যতার প্রশ্নে এই তারতম্য কেন? প্রশ্ন করা হয়েছিল বিশিষ্ট কথাসাহিত্যিক সমরেশ মজুমদার এবং পশ্চিমবঙ্গের এক বিশিষ্ট পুস্তক প্রকাশককে। প্রশ্নকর্তা অমিতাভ ভট্টশালী। উত্তরে সমরেশ মজুমদার এবং পুস্তক প্রকাশক মহোদয় কারণ সম্পর্কে প্রায় একই সুরে কথা বললেন। তাঁদের বক্তব্যের মূল প্রতিপাদ্য হলো পশ্চিমবাংলার হিন্দু বাঙালি পাঠক খুবই সংকীর্ণ মনের। তারা জলকে পানি, দিদিকে আপা, পূজাকে নামাজ ব্যবহার প্রাণ থেকেই গ্রহণ করেনি। কাজেই বাংলাদেশের মুসলমান সাহিত্যিকদের কদর সেখানে খুবই সীমিত। সমরেশ মজুমদার বললেন, আমার বই বাংলাদেশে কমপক্ষে চার লক্ষ বিক্রি হয়ে থাকে। আমার লেখায় হিন্দু ধর্মের কথাই থাকে। পুজো কিংবা বিভিন্ন সামাজিক হিন্দু আচার অনুষ্ঠানের প্রসঙ্গও থাকে। কিন্তু বাংলাদেশের পাঠক ওগুলো আমলে নেন না। এ ব্যাপারটি বাঙালি হিন্দু পাঠকের ক্ষেত্রে খুব একটা দেখা যায় না। এটাই হচ্ছে সংকীর্ণচিত্ততা। বাংলাদেশের পাঠক সাহিত্যমূল্যকে ধর্মের ওপরে স্থান দেন। কিন্তু হিন্দু বাঙালি পাঠক ধর্মকে সাহিত্যমূল্যের ওপরে রাখেন।
(In Paschim Banga, there is no demand for Humayun Ahmed’s book. But he is a megastar in Bangladesh. Why is there such a disjoint in terms of acceptability among the literate readers of the two Bengals? The question was put to the renowned author Samaresh Mazumdar and a major publisher. The questioner was Amitabh Bhattashalee. Both the publisher and Samaresh Mazumdar replies in nearly the same tune. Their main thesis is that the Hindu Bengali readers of Paschim Banga are very narrow minded. They had not accepted in their hearts the use of pani instead of jal (for water), apa instead of didi (for elder sister) or namaz instead of puja (for prayer). That’s why the appeal of Muslim writers from Bangladesh is very limited there. Samaresh Mazumdar said: “My books sell at least 400,000 copies in Bangladesh. My writing mainly reflects Hinduism. It includes puja and other Hindu rituals. But Bangladeshi readers don’t mind them. But this isn’t the case with Hindu Bengali readers. That’s the narrow mindedness. Bangladeshi readers put literature above religion. But Hindu Bengali reader puts religion above literature”.)
I was half way through writing this piece for Kafila when I heard the news. My immediate reaction was one of numbness. Unlike many of my friends / fellow activists, I didn’t know Tareque Masud personally. We met a couple of times, but that didn’t even make us acquaintances. And yet, the sorrow was as if the loss was personal.
Perhaps it was because, like so many, I first saw 1971 through Masud’s eyes.
After nearly a month, having thought about it a lot more, I think Masud will be missed not just because of the work he did on 1971. The revisionist history was ending anyway in the post-Jahanara Imam Bangladesh. Masud played an important role in that process. But there were others contributing to the struggle.
No. I think Masud will be missed most because he dared to look beyond the simple story of 1971. In both Matir Moina and Runway he tried to show the Bangali Musolman-er mon. (more…)
List of names of Hindu students and professors massacred at Jagannath Hall on night of 25th March, 1971 by the Pakistani Army. Click to enlarge.
Nirad C Chaudhuri and Jatin Sarker were both born in Hindu families in the Mymensingh district of eastern Bengal, now Bangladesh. Chaudhuri, about four decades older than Sarkar, wrote his autobiography before India held its first election, and ceased to be an unknown Indian. Sarker also wrote his life story. Unlike Chaudhuri, Sarker’s was in Bangla, published in Bangladesh, never translated in English, and not available in India or beyond. He remains unknown. Which is a pity, because if you want to know what has happened to the land where both these men were born, Sarker is a far, far better guide than Chaudhuri.
Sarker, of course, stopped being an Indian on 14 August 1947, when Mymensingh became part of East Pakistan — the eastern wing of Jinnah’s moth-nibbled land of the pure. His family didn’t move to India. They were not atypical. Many Hindu families remained in East Pakistan. Perhaps it was the presence of Gandhi. Perhaps it was the fantastical belief that Subhas Chandra Bose would return in 1957 — a century after the Great Uprising, two centuries after the Battle of Plassey — to reunite Mother Bengal.
There were no trains full of dead bodies to and from Calcutta. Not that there was no Hindu exodus from East Pakistan. Far from it. In 1941, 28% of the people of the districts that became East Pakistan were Hindus. A decade later, the share had dropped to 22%. By 1961, 18.5%. There were emigrations in dribs and drabs, with major outflows during the communal violence of 1946, 1950, and 1964.
There were riots in India, too. West Bengal was a peripheral state in the Indian Federation. Those Hindus who moved from East Pakistan to India — mainly but not wholly to Calcutta — became part of that troublesome city’s doomed citizenry. No one really cared much for them in Delhi or Bombay, where power and wealth resided.
What of those who stayed back?
Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Purba Paschim – easily one of the best known Bangla novels ever written — is centred on the lives of Mamun and Pratap — college friends in pre-partition Calcutta whose stories diverge after 1947. Pratap and his entire family leave their ancestral home in East Bengal for Calcutta. He faces financial hardship, cramped living conditions, loss of a son, and many other tragedies and tribulations. But in a sense, he has a normal family life, consisting of birth, marriage, funerals and everything in between. Pratap dies a fulfilled and content man. Mamun’s case is different. He emerges as a well known newspaper editor in East Pakistan, contributing to the democratic movements of the 1960s, participating in the Liberation War, and in the formation of the new country. While not exactly rich, there is never a hint of him facing penury. But for all that, Mamun has a rather unhappy personal life — a failed marriage, a complicated relationship which dooms the marriage of a niece, no kids.
I don’t know whether Gangopadhyay means it thus, but to me, the two characters seem to symbolise the paths taken by the two Bengals over the past 64 years — a democratic and stable West Bengal versus a Bangladesh buffeted by the revolutionary highs and counterrevolutionary lows alike.
One can think of a variation of this dichotomy in a number of other works of fiction depicting the diaspora from the two Bengals. Compare the experience of Ashima in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Namesake with that of Nazneen in Monica Ali’s Brick Lane. The integration into the west is much easier for the wife of an MIT teacher. And her son, Gogol, when all is said and done, has existential crises that are not really all that different from Douglas Coupland’s protagonists — a far cry from Magid and Millat of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.
Since August, I have been posting about an alternate universe where partition had never happened. I have been asked about the reasons for this series. Is it really ‘the smoking gun’ evidence that this blog is really anti-Bangladesh, and wants to establish an Akhand Bharat?
I leave it to the reader to judge this blog for themselves. All I can say about that series is that I have fun writing it. I don’t believe in historical inevitabilities. But I do think choices and events and personalities can leave long lasting effects. Fantasies like what might have been can make us appreciate the reality more, and can help focus our minds about the task ahead. And it’s interesting to ponder about what might have happened if MK Gandhi, and not CR Das, died in 1926 with his signature political innovation in tatters.
It’s also interesting to wonder about what kind of Pakistan it would have been if Bengal was soaked in communal violence and East Pakistan ended up with a bi-lingual rather than bi-communal population, West Pakistan was relatively more pluralistic with large Sikh and Hindu minorities in Punjab, Kashmir had acceded to Pakistan without a war with India, and Suhrawardy was the first Prime Minister?
Some folks will now get the chance to call this blog anti-Bangladesh because of its ‘hankering for united Pakistan‘. Others, enjoy the flight of fancy.
Singing Amar Shonar Bangla with the whole stadium — the highest point during a cricket match attended by fellow blogger Rumi Ahmed.
For those of us born in Bangladesh, which turns 40 today, along with the red-and-green flag, there is an instinctive, natural identification with Amar Shonar Bangla. Less recognised is the fascinating history of the song, which also tells us the twists and turns in the history of the 20th century Bengal.
This week, Bangladesh celebrates its 40th birthday — the country came into existence on 26 March 1971. As it happens, this week as also seen the 71st anniversary of another seminal event — on 23 March 1940, the Lahore Resolution was presented at a meeting of the All India Muslim League by AK Fazlul Huq, the then Prime Minister of Bengal. Popularly known as the Pakistan Resolution, it stated:
That the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in majority as in the North-Western and Eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign.
Did the events of March 1971 nullify the resolution of March 1940? Or was the earlier resolution realised by the later events?
Beyond the chest thumping Bangla blogs and op ed columns, there is actually a very lively academic discourse that wrestles with these questions. I strongly recommend the reader to writings of Ahmed Safa, Jatin Sarkar, Tazeen Murshid or Joya Chaterjee — a page of their average writing is much better than a dozen op eds by, say, Syed Badrul Ahsan (unless you read Ahsan for sheer entertainment value).
Personally, I prefer to see myself as a student of history, not a scholar. So I don’t really have anything terribly original to say about that discourse. Instead, let me indulge in ‘what if’ fantasies about a two-winged Pakistan surviving beyond 1971.
At the stroke of the midnight hour, as the clock hands met in respectful greetings, India awoke to a mottled dawn, with its wings clipped off to form a moth nibbled shameless beast — yes, yes, I’m chutneyfying Nehru, Jinnah, Rushdie and Manto. Okay, enough of that. For the last couple of years, I dabbled in quackery of alternate history to mark partition (here and here). They say once is happenstance, twice coincidence, but three times and we have a trend, a tradition.
Very well then, let’s have a tradition. In a previous life, I explored the possibility of an unpartitioned India. I am going to explore that idea in an upcoming series. First installment, previously posted in A-A-A, is over the fold.
দেশভাগের ৬১ বছর হয়ে গেল গত সপ্তাহে । পশ্চিম বঙ্গে দেশভাগ খুবই গুরুত্বপূর্ণ বিষয় । অনেক লেখালেখি হুয়েছে সেদেশে ৪০ দশকের সেই ঘটনাগুলি নিয়ে । কিন্তু বাংলাদেশের লেখকদের কলমে ঘটনাবহুল ৬০-৭০ দশকের কথাই উঠে এসেছে, দেশভাগ রয়ে গেছে আড়ালে । আমাদের কাছে ১৪ আগস্ট কেবলই ক্যালেন্ডারে আরেকটি দিন, আর আমাদের কাছে গুরুত্বপূর্ণ ১৫ আগস্ট ১৯৭৫, ১৯৪৭ নয় । কিন্তু ১৪-১৫ আগস্ট ১৯৪৭ আমাদের ইতিহাসেরও অবিচ্ছেদ্য অংশ । সেই চিন্তা থেকেই আজকের লেখা । পূর্ব পাকিস্তান সময়ের দুটি উপন্যাসে কেমন ভাবে দেশভাগ এসেছে তাই আমরা দেখব ।