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     Volume 9 Issue 12| March 19, 2010|

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Ganthagalpo- Stories by Women Writers

Shudeepto Ariquzzaman

Gantha is an association of women writers and activists in Bangladesh. The organisation was founded on March 8 2007, which is International Women's Day, thus the launching of a book by women writers on the same day. This year, Gantha celebrated its third anniversary on March 10 when they also launched their book Ganthagolpo. The programme was held on the premises of Omni Books, located at the fourth floor of Genetic Plaza, Dhanmondi 27.

Ganthagalpo is a collection of stories written by the organisation's authors and published by writers.ink.

Professor Niaz Zaman, who was the main moderator, made the opening speech. She detailed on Gantha, their activities, and the aim of the organisation. She informed that this was the first time a single edition had comprised all the writers of the organisation. Altogether 14 stories find their place in the book, four of which were translated from English.

Authors of Ganthagalpo spoke about the book. Papri Rahman, the Joint Secretary of the organisation stressed the diversity of the different stories, the fact that in spite of being a women's organisation, the stories of their writers covered a broad range of issues. So it would be wrong for a reader to expect solely feminist themes. This was evident in the opening lines of her story- Golapopash Atordan Marfoti. Potential readers may be warned that some might find the opening sentences a little unfeminine and slightly vulgar albeit entertaining because of the humour.

Jahanara Nuri, author of Ekti Shantir Sangit expressed dissatisfaction with a new trend among concerned stakeholders- their unwillingness to be branded as feminists. After that she proceeded to narrate some parts from her moving story. The main character Nayan, however, seems a little too naïve and therefore unrealistic. The plot could have been less melodramatic - a criminal killing the child of a high public official for no apparent reason, AK-47 ending up in a garbage can and so on.

Jharna Rahman, author of the story Ami Ghora Dekhi said that through Ganthagalpo, Gantha had pioneered a trend - accommodating English and Bengali writers in the same platform. Rahman also expressed frustration that nothing the authors have written ever seemed to be published correctly.

Saleha Chowdhury, author of Moses also read from her story. The central character of the story is a miserly Jewish shopkeeper who prefers to neglect the sufferings of his wife if it saves him from paying the doctor. As a result, his beloved wife dies without treatment. The man is unfortunately more concerned with meeting the funeral costs and the expenses of his late wife's pets rather than grieving for his wife. For the man, it would be one of these family pets, the cat called Moses who would spell out his final doom. The moral of the story according to the author is that anyone can fight back, even a cat. There is another moral. After his death, a huge amount of wealth was recovered from under the floor of his house. The unfortunate shopkeeper would have no use or need of the wealth that he so fanatically protected- one cannot take his wealth to the grave.

Dr. Maleka Begum, a rights activist and book critic discussed the themes of some of the stories. She spoke nostalgically about the days of Sufia Kamal when the women's movement in Bangladesh was beginning to take hold. She however, expressed dismay about the changing times where practices such as living together without marriage and face book prostitution are fast becoming an accepted part of modern life.

Dr. Razia Khan made the final speech of the day. She contradicted Jahanra Nuri's stance on feminism. " Why do women have to beg the government and NGOs for establishing women's rights. When women believe they are oppressed, they have to fight back themselves not look to others for support." She went further- " When man is oppressed, women shall also be oppressed. As long as oppression on men cannot be stopped, you can hardly expect women's rights in this country." Social justice is as important for men as it is for women, and the two are proportionally related. Dr. Khan also refuted the common notion that Western societies have equal rights for their women. Contrary to popular belief, she felt that the West has much to learn about women's rights.

She spoke about communism, concerning Marx and Engels. Neither were peasants or factory workers but middle class professionals. That is why they spoke out against oppression, because they themselves were not oppressed and did not want others to be oppressed either.

About Moses, Dr. Razia Khan praised the story and requested the author to allow her to translate it. She however, maintained her reservations on using stereotypical depictions of Jews, maintaining that this particular race has been throughout history been stereotyped as misers and other unflattering titles.

On the whole Ganthagalpo has a diverse range of stories ranging from temptations that lead to illicit affairs between married men and women, to the story of a cat that decided enough was enough. Despite being a group of women's writers, the stories focused on various social and moral issues, and were not limited to the feminist point of view. Rather, the perspective of social injustice was touched from different angles using a variety of stories.


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