Writing from the Margins
Shamsun Nahar Iffat Ara, Iffat Ara in short, 67, deserves recognition as a woman who took extraordinary initiatives at a time when formal education was out of reach for women. She is still a prolific writer. She took upon herself the challenge of breaking the barriers of the then conservative Muslim society and published a literary magazine from Mymensingh. This venture was the second of its kind in the region. The first was Dil Ara Minu, who published a literary magazine in late 1960s from Mymensingh but it only lasted a few months due to financial problems
Born in Kishoreganj, in 1939 to the late Alhaj Moulavi Kazi Abdul Hakim and the late Hafiza Khanam, Iffat Ara obtained higher education through her own efforts. She did her MA in Bengali from Ananda Mohan College and her B. Ed from Mymensingh Teachers Training College. She told me that her parents had stopped her education after finishing primary school, as her father was not interested in letting her continue. Her parents finally let her continue on to high school after Iffat threatened to commit suicide if she was not allowed to go on with further studies.
She got married to Advocate Abdul Latif Talukder when she was in class ten. But she continued her study and passed her matriculation with credit. In the meantime she gave birth to three children- two sons and a daughter. Family life came in the way of her education but after ten years of being married, she passed her intermediate in 1966 and did her BA from Muminunnesa College in 1968. Getting all-out support from her husband, she never looked back and later did her B.Ed degree in 1969. She started her teaching career in the local Nasirabad Girls High School in 1969 and became Headmistress of the school in 1971. She later did her MA in 1973 from Ananda Mohan Govt. College.
Her writing started in her childhood and after marriage she had plenty of time to write in her leisure as her husband was a lawyer in the Supreme Court. Gradually she involved herself seriously as her work was getting praise. On her own accord she started publishing a monthly literary magazine, Ditiya Chinta. The publication of Ditiya Chinta started on Pahela Baishakh of 1393.
She took up all the responsibilities of the magazine herself, including gathering pieces from both inside and outside of the district as well as printing her own family press. “It was hard to get contributions from the writers and I had to send them request letters and in some cases a token honorarium in the interest of my magazine”, Iffat Ara said.
Besides the regional writers, many noted writers of the country also contributed to Ditiya Chinta. Contributors included luminaries such as Shamsur Rahman, Sirajul Islam Chowdhury and Dr. Humayan Azad. Iffat Ara also included material to remember past writers. She's also brought out her own books. They include Rodan Bhora Bashanta, Nona Shader Jibon, Ekaki Andhakar and Sukh Jakhan Sheshbeloya. Her two writings for children are Shona Ache Jana Nai and Jano Kinto Jano Naa. She also edited the anthology Bangladesher Jonopriya Kobita. Many of her writings are currently awaiting publication, said Iffat Ara. She has also written for a number of national dailies.
Besides her writing, she has been involved in many organizations such as the Mymensingh units of Bangladesh Federation of University for Women, Bangladesh Mohila Samity, Mohila Krira Association, Mental Disabled Welfare Association, Mymensingh Shahitya Sangsad, Bangladesh Red Crescent Society and Bangladesh Family Planning Association. She was elected as the Commissioner of Mymensingh Municipality for a term. In addition, she has also conducted her honorary service as a visitor of Mymensingh Central Jail for two terms.
Iffat Ara is blessed with three sons and a daughter. Her children are all highly educated and are engaged in professional work. One of her sons is Commerce Minister at the Bangladesh Embassy in Brussels and another is a doctor at Apollo Hospital in Dhaka. Her only daughter is a Professor of the Economics Department in Muminunnesa Govt. Women's College in Mymensingh.
“Due to old age and lack of necessary support I could not publish the magazine on a regular basis”, lamented Iffat Ara. “I want to continue my writing as long as I live”. She certainly has our support as she goes on with her work.
(R) thedailystar.net 2007