Surajit Roy Majumder
Down my university days as an out-going literature graduate in early 1990s, I once met a Canadian tourist with the last name 'Dawson' in a downtown Dhaka restaurant who was returning from South East Asia spending his Summer vacation teaching English in a Thailand school.
This Mr. Dawson with interest in many things just had been a fan of Zen Buddhism and gave me two audio cassettes of Zen lectures by Peter Coyote out of his huge collections as a sign of friendly goodwill. We came quite close to each other in our three hour's talks on topics covering politics to literature.
Out of my curiosity, I asked him about some notable Canadian literary figures. He wrote in my diary next to his postal address four/five names for me the first two of which were Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro for sure.
The other names are lost forever with my diary that was stolen later during a bus journey from Dhaka to my country home in Southern Bangladesh district of Khulna. And thus was lost whatever link I ever had happened to have with Canadian literature a quarter century ago. This pathetic snapshot about the status of Canadian literature in my country of origin has not changed much with time.
Even more wonders are in the queue. As English literature students, we had American literature in canonical courses besides European continental and even African, but never anything from America's coast to coast northern giant neighbor Canada. Rohintons and Bharatis began to surface quite later and occasionally only when they might got short listed for Booker or the like and were extremely limited to news reports and at best, to very few university faculties having academic past in North America.
Barring that very few exceptions, I never remember a moment to hear of a single Canadian writer from my North America-educated professors. British Council branches down there used to showcase Commonwealth literature every two-three years. Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and even pre-liberation India were present there in volumes, but mysteriously maple leaf was always very conspicuous in absence in the shelves.
There may be a host of reasons behind such a poor presence of Canada's literature among South Asia readers which is no point here today. The point here and now is the deafening drum-beat and tra lala and a humongous hurray for writer Subrata Kumar Das because Subrata has broken the century's silence about Canadian literature among Bengali speaking circles around the globe.
A five-year-long strenuous struggle of a diehard literary activist such as Subrata Kumar Das has at last been translated into a magnificent magnum opus by the name 'Kanadiy o Sahityo: Bichchhinno Vabana (Canadian Literature: Some Snapshots), a wonderful window on world's most beautiful and pluralistically vibrant multicultural literary activities unfortunately unheard of so far to Bengali speaking world.
And he did it with quite a big bang heard simultaneously from Canada and its due geographical opposite, South Asia, covering almost fifteen thousand kilometers of physical geography. It is more so especially because it is going to be inaugurated in Bangladesh's major cultural event Ekushey Book Fair 2019 held in commemoration of International Mother Language Day beginning in 1952 along with the book's Canadian opening on February 3, 2019 in Toronto.
The writer Subrata already has 26 publications to his credit. Himself a student and afterwards a teacher of literature, Subrata has been serving literature and literary causes all along as a prominent literary activist for decades now. So he has some professional insight into readers' needs and expectations while dealing with such a diverse and complex domain as Canadian Literature which was, has been and will be undefined forever. No wander the writer begins from the beginning.
The first two chapters of the book, the foreword and the introduction with detailed background and historical evolution of CanLit have been designed with delicate care and compassion for prospective readers so their journey through a complex literary world does not end in a no-exit labyrinth.
The writer has tried his best to provide a simplified picture of what Canadian literature is known to be and readers of both academic and common stature will be equally benefitted from these introductions. Subrata's convincing annals of his day to day venture into the apparently hostile ocean of Canadian literature somehow may remind readers of OrhanPamuk's story of his father's suitcase.
However outrageous this comparison may sound to 'some', my ardent hope is that the other 'many' should not miss the reminiscent essence of Pamuk's annals in Subrata's at least in their intensity. The detailed journal of an immigrant writer like Subrata and its close details of pains, pleasures, hopes, dreams, dreams' breaking, frustrations, challenges, dream's building and rebuilding and launching are simply touching. The reader must relish the stray sauce beside the main course in it.
Let's go inside. O, before that, don't forget to have a look to the attractive art work of Mostafiz Karigar in the cover and appreciate. It truly deserves that. As stated earlier, Subrata has all through his plan kept in mind the need of his readers and has chosen topics to suit that plan.
Over-smart readers will always show some question marks and you can never satisfy all always. But believe me, you won't lose if you have the writer in confidence and proceed accordingly. Your prize is guaranteed at the end of the day. The secret behind my confidence in saying this lies in Subrata's stated rationale behind this book in the language of Carol Shields.
In page 17 of this book, Subrata quotes Shields which goes like this: "Write the book you want to read, the one you cannot find." Automatically comes to mind the exactly similar saying by Toni Morrison: 'If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.' Anyway, writer Subrata was looking for such a book to read on Canadian literature that he ultimately has succeeded to write. For any writer, there can't be a better rationale.
The current book is the result of writer's five year's study in Canadian literature. The challenges in his venture into a new complex area have helped him point a comparatively smoother route to the kingdom as a faithful and reliable pathfinder. The perfectly balanced design in his presentation of topics bears the evidence.
Among thirty plus chapters, the writer has dealt with poets in thirteen and the rest seventeen about prose fiction and other genres. Susanna Moodie, Stephen Leacock, Emily Carr, Robert W. Service, LM Montgomery, Mazo de la Roche, Hugh Maclennan, Gabrielle Roy,Dorothy Livesay, Irving Layton, PK Page, Al Purdy, Milton Acorn, Phyllis Webb, Leonard Cohen, Carol Shields, Pat Lowther, George Bowering, Sheila Fischman, bill bissett, Governor General David Johnston, Gwendolyn Mac Ewen, Matt Cohen, Harold Sonny Ladoo, Charlotte Gray, Ven Begamudre, Cathy Ostlere and a host of pricy entries on Canadian mostly contemporary authors have been offered in this highly appreciable work of Das. The range is fascinatingly inclusive.
It will be rather simplistic to take all the entries as some plain short notes on some Canadian authors. The entries are never random selections as might be mistaken from the title Bichchhinno Vabna (Snapshots) but Subrata obviously has a subtle design in his presentation of all of them as readers will discover gradually while going through them.
Most of the entries have an intertwined story behind them that Subrata has felt like sharing with his readers and hence, a single chapter has attained some sort of metafictional quality in its development - just one of the numerous technical ingenuity demonstrations in the book. One single example can be Chapter 5: Legendry Writer Susanna Moodie.
This is actually about Margaret Atwood's Journals of Susanna Moodie, 'a nineteenth century Canadian pioneer who becomes the archetypal colonial entering the unknown wilderness of the New World. Imprisoned within the outmoded conventions of the Victorian world that she carries in her head, she retreats into her won circle game projecting nostalgic Victorian preconceptions onto an alien landscape, while remaining ignorant of the challenges of her new environment'.
Subrata's unique presentation of this chapter is remarkable for several reasons: first, Subrata has successfully elaborated in details in the chapter Margaret Atwood's prime objective of attributing such 'quintessential Moodieism' to nineteenth century 'Canadian sensibility'; Secondly, Subrata has ingeniously presented his personal journal of his journey into the world of Canadian literature in the first chapter of this book in parallel with Atwood's Journal of Susanne Moodie to attribute an essential meta fictional dimension to his development of this chapter; thirdly, Subrata has undone his own benign apology in the introduction that he has dropped such major authors as Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro et al in this particular book, and it is because his readers find a major representation of Margaret Atwood in this chapter 5. All are to the interest of the readers.
Last but not the least, author Subrata could have paid a little more care to put the English or French names in Roman alphabets instead of Bengali transcriptions to avoid confusions and pains for advanced readers and researchers .Other than that, readers will little hesitate to rate this Murdhonno published beautiful book a full hundred per cent.
To put it simply, although many may mark Subrata Kumar Das' book just as 'the tip of the iceberg' of the universe of Canadian Literature, it has been a 'Herculean task' done in the true sense of the term. Happy Reading!
The writer is an essayist, curriculum specialist and researcher living in Toronto, Canada