Rizia Rahman, an antidote to apathy | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 23, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:10 AM, July 23, 2020

Rizia Rahman, an antidote to apathy

Translated by Muhammad Mutiul Muhaimin

For lovers of short story collections, Rizia Rahman's Char Doshoker Golpo (2011) can be great company on lazy afternoons. Rahman is undoubtedly among the finest writers of literature in Bangladesh, yet her craft goes unnoticed by many from the younger generations today. Seldom has any facet of life or society gone untouched by the light of her smooth and free-flowing language. 

First published in 2008, her story "Shonar Horin Chai" depicts the life and struggles of a Bengali Muslim living in the United States. We read about Bengali students living inhumane lives in hopes of being granted immigrant status, their struggles with food and daily life, and being profiled as terrorists simply for having "Muhammad" as part of their names—all of which still feel relevant today.

In 2006, while paying her sister a visit in the States, Rahman meets a Black housekeeper named Donna Walker. From Donna's life story, Rahman is able to relate first hand with the violence perpetrated against African-Americans by White supremacy. The author compares these instances with the situations that domestic workers have to bear in Bangladesh. Small differences creep up in her mind—despite being a minority, Donna works in a healthy environment, is still paid for working overtime, and still drives to work albeit in an old car. The plights of the working class of Bangladesh would be unimaginable to even the poor in America. Even then, Rahman's thoughts on Donna and her husband losing jobs, being accused of theft, and facing ceaseless harassment because of their skin colour resonate with those of us still reeling from George Floyd's death in Minneapolis this year.

In "Shamne Juddho" first published in 1986, Rahman tells us the story of 10-year-old newspaper hawker Amin, who lives with an NGO-worker and their family. Amin reads the newspaper every day to educate himself about the ways of the world. When he is arrested and released on bail with the help of his guardian, Amin delivers a monologue and cites the example of Nelson Mandela, who is also serving time in jail. Is Mandela, then, also a criminal? Amin has seen many Mandelas in the jail he just left behind. This story was published while Bangladesh was living under an autocracy and yet Rahman manages to convey so much without outrightly addressing politics. Such are her lucidity and finesse as a writer.

Unlike the wars, pandemics, and natural disasters of history, our current crisis prevents humankind from standing beside each other in solidarity. Isolated from each other, we are forced to offer greater strength to ourselves, fight for ourselves. As the world burns in the heat of this unique summer, literature—Rizia Rahman's literature in particular—feels like a tall drink of water that cools the body and the mind. Her words teach us that humankind has indeed lost repeatedly at different points of time, but it hasn't remained stagnant.


Humayra Ali is an author and voracious reader of Bangla literature, who has taught Bangla in classrooms for 30 years. She has taken her writing to @humayra363 on Instagram and Tobuo Jibon by Humayra Ali on Facebook.

Muhammad Mutiul Muhaimin is an aspiring engineer who blogs about social reforms. He writes because he finds it therapeutic. LinkedIn: Mutiul Muhaimin

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