"Quality literary works often go unnoticed"
Given your long-term teaching experience, how would you evaluate the education system of Bangladesh?
When we were children, our Balyashikkha book would start with Bangla alphabets (au, aa, ka, kha). But nowadays the very first book for children starts with sentences and the alphabets come at the end of the book. This is a major fault in our primary education system.
My grandfather had studied in a pathshala under the gurumoshai. He could read and write Bangla quite well because he learned the alphabets first. This method of learning was so fruitful that those who went to pathshala and studied up to grade V could easily read Bangla. They could even read the books of Vidyasagar or Bankim. Students these days after completing primary education cannot read Bangla properly, let alone rapidly.
Those in favour of this method hold the view that if this method of teaching can be applied in countries like the UK, US, France, Germany, etc., it can also be applied in our country. What they do not understand is, in the languages in these countries the pronunciation of the vowels and consonants is never the same. For example, in the English language, 'i' in the word bird is pronounced as 'a' while in the word bit, 'i' is pronounced as 'ee.' Also, 'c' is pronounced in different ways—as 'cha' and also 'ka'. That is why they start with sentences, not the alphabets. But our language is different from these languages. In Bangla, 'ka' is always pronounced as 'ka,' and never pronounced as 'cha'. Thus applying the western method in teaching Bangla language doesn't make any sense.
In the past, students had to study all the subjects up until matriculation. We had studied geography, history, science, etc. Thus we had a strong foundation. I have noticed that young people today do not even have the minimum knowledge about history or geography. That's why I think primary and secondary education of our time was way better than that of today.
Bangla is a very rich language and Bangla literature is of such quality that it can compete with the literature of other languages and win international awards. Why is it that after Rabindranath Tagore no one has so far won any prestigious international awards?
The kinds of experiments that were done in modern European literature were not done in Bangla literature with the exception of Syed Waliullah who carried out such experiments. He had created high-quality literary works. During his lifetime there was no discussion about his writings. He only got a little recognition after his death. Or take for example the novels of Akhtaruzzaman Elias. People often talk about Chilekothar Sepai, but there is hardly any discussion about his other major novel Khowabnama. We need to recognise these high-quality literary works….
Adwaita Mallabarman wrote Titash Ekti Nodir Nam in 1956 but the book was published three years after his death. It captivated the attention of literary circles and was much-talked about long after his death. When we read that book and held discussions on it, we realised that he portrayed the life of ordinary people of this region so beautifully—like Tarashankar did in his writings.
We often do not recognise these types of genuine literary works. And it is our collective failure. It is the failure of the writers and critics. We do not know how to praise good literature. We do not even have an interest to familiarise the world with our quality literary works. This failure is due to our narrow-mindedness. Also, our writers often run after cheap popularity and do not write on any serious themes. This has serious consequences on quality literary works as they often go unnoticed.
Does the structure of language have a part to play here? For example, although Bankim Chandra would use difficult words in his writings, there were also elements of humour. And Rabindranath made the language so lucid. At present, Humayun Ahmed has been using very simple language to tell complicated stories…
The environment a writer wants to create through the use of his language must be consistent with the subject matter of his writing. I don't think the way readers react to the language used should be of any concern to the writer. In Prodoshe Prakritojon, I used very difficult and archaic Bangla words. In most cases, I tried to avoid the apavrangsho form of the main Sanskrit words and used the undistorted ancient form of the words because the story was not based in the modern age. The protagonists were of the time of Laxman Sen-Bakhtiyar Khilji. I thought, if I had to successfully portray that period, I would have to use the language of that time. Thus I used the old form of the language. Had I used the modern form, my readers might have been satisfied but I may not have been.
Why then are the verbs in the colloquial/spoken form?
Although the story is not based in the modern age, I cannot simply deny the language of the contemporary time. Bankim Chandra used 'khaiyachhi,' 'koriyachhi' in his writings, but people of that time did not use those verb forms in their day-to-day spoken language. On the one hand, I tried to create an atmosphere of the past, but on the other hand, by using the verbs in the colloquial form, I also tried to assure the readers that my book is not outdated…
Bashat and Warish are two of your novels that have been written in the context of partition. Why are you so interested about the memories of the partition of Bengal?
The novel Bashat was mainly based on my life. I was born in Dinajpur of West Bengal which was a big district. After the partition, the place we used to live in fell under India. We had 20-25 bighas of land there. My father used to practise homeopathy and my mother was a teacher at a local secondary school. She also had a diploma from the Sreerampur Textile Institute. In 1939, when my mother went to Sreerampur, she took me with her. I was a four-year-old then and was admitted to a missionary school. But we could not stay there because of the turmoil of World War II and returned home.
My father did not want Pakistan while my mother was in favour of Pakistan. Thus there were two camps in our own home. One was the Pakistan camp and the other was undivided India camp. In 1946, a referendum was held with the participation of Muslims in the region in order to determine whether there would be a separate state named Pakistan. Almost 80 percent Muslims of Bengal voted for Pakistan. Forty-five percent votes were cast in Punjab and 30 to 40 percent votes were cast in other areas for Pakistan.
After the partition of 1947, although Muslims came to this side of Bengal leaving their own country, we stayed back where we were. Although my mother was a supporter of Pakistan, before her death in 1949, she told us not to go to Pakistan. Because this was not the Pakistan my mother wanted. She hoped that Pakistan would be a democratic state. But the idea that we got from the radio programmes of that time was that Pakistan was going to be a fundamentalist state.
Being a minority, we had to face various forms of oppression. In 1951, I sat for the matriculation exam. Among the 21 students, there were only four Muslim students, including me. After passing the exam, I along with my siblings went to Pakistan. But my father stayed back in India. I was 16 or 17 then. I bought a house here where I started living with my family.
These incidents are portrayed in Bashat. Raihan, the protagonist in Bashat, is me. But because it is a novel, there are some fictional elements in it too.
We develop a relationship with our motherland in the early years of our life and our very first perception about life is formed in terms of that relationship. Thus to sever ties with one's motherland and embrace a new country as one's new home is not an easy thing to do. The pain that flows to the depth of the heart like the strong current of a river is incomparable. Maybe that's why the partition of Bengal appears in my writing over and over again.