The Idea of writing this piece came to my mind a few months ago when I involved myself into a fair debate with one of my acquaintances. We were discussing about Bangla literature when suddenly that literature- lover friend of mine called Syed Waliullah a minor writer. I protested and after a long fair debate he admitted Waliullah as a major Bangali writer but commented that he is less important than Akhteruzzaman Elias. According to him, a fiction devoid of history is rarely a successful one. Waliullah's fictions are full of philosophy and philosophical novels are not so much likely to be successful. He also claimed that Waliullah was totally indifferent to the history of his native land. Before entering into the focus point, let me clarify one thing: I am not biased with either Waliullah or Elias. If that friend of mine claimed Elias as a minor writer, I would have protested as well. Here I am just sharing my ideas about these two masters of Bangla literature. I am not trying to set them as oppositions rather they are fellows of each other for me.
As far as background is concerned, novels can be divided into two sects:
1. Historical Background: I don't mean conventional historical fictions here. In both of his novels, Elias has dealt with groundbreaking history of Bangladesh. Say for example Chilekothar Sepai. This novel, written in the context of mass movement of '69, reveals the socio- political reality of that period through the characters of different cast and sect. Elias is a politics and history concerned writer. Elias can be compared with Marquez who is credited as capturing the history of whole Latin America inside his fist. This kind of novel is written in the context of specific history of a continent- subcontinent- country, then how can it have universal value? What is the use of Chilekothar Sepai or One Hundred Years of Solitude for the readers out of these countries? Why should a reader of Ghana be interested what happened in Bangladesh in 1969? Reasons are there. This kind of novels becomes classic for its artistic quality. The original strength of this kind of novels lies in the story of familiar reality in surrealistic atmosphere of Khoabnama, outstanding use of symbols and imageries and use of effective language. Another reason is learning something from history and reconsidering and re-realizing history from a philosophical viewpoint. In this sense, the history of a country is the history of the whole world and human beings show some common reaction at the moment of humanitarian crisis. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Orhan Pamuk, Tarashankar Bandopadhyay belong to this sect.
2. Global Background: The background of Waliullah's novels is Bangladesh. In all his three novels we find the dense- compact picture of the rural area of this country. But the canvas is global. His novel doesn't depict the history or reveals the weal and woe of the inhabitants of this country. He is popularly known as the first existential novelist of Bangladesh and existentialism is western in its origin. He even called himself as global and claimed the whole world to be his native land whether the world accepts him or not. We find the young teacher of Chader Amabasya as a man engaged in pursuit of truth in the reflection of reality in life. Waliullah's novels can't be judged in the context of a specific history in the geographical limit of a specific country. The crisis of the young teacher can emerge in any conscious man in anywhere in the world. Self- contradiction, self- analysis, existential crisis are the main characteristics of this kind of novels. Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, James Joyce, George Orwell, Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, Buddhodeb Bose belong to these sect.
Many readers, like that friend of mine, think that philosophical novels can't be classics. They also think a novel devoid of history can't even be categorized as novel. I don't know what most of the intellectuals think, I don't agree. I believe without philosophy a novel can't be written whether the background is historical or global. Even in a historical novel, history is considered philosophically rather than as a catalogue of dates and times. If I draw example from world literature, the name of Kafka comes first. He was also victimized by history or world war. He has lost his family members to the Nazi. My realization is: most of the master novelist of twentieth and twenty first century are influenced by Kafka. Whether we look at the historical or global novelists, Kafka's impact is clear. Camus has declared Kafka as his idol. Marquez has admitted Kafka as the major influence of magic realism in his novels. He has said while describing the experience of reading The Metamorphosis that he was about to fall down from his bed just after reading the first sentence and astonishingly thought, 'can a story start this way too!' Orhan Pamuk has more than one essay on Kafka and he has said that Kafka never won a single award but he had won the Nobel but he couldn't have written like Kafka yet. J. M. Coetzee's Michael K. is a tribute to Joseph K. of The Trial. I often feel that Kafka is the most authentic novelist of modern and postmodern novels. Both of the present discussible legends were also influenced by Kafka the evidence of which can be found in their diary and letters.
Now, in the complete works of Kafka, especially in The Metamorphosis, The Castle and The Trial, which have made Kafka Kafka, no specific historic background is found. Yes, impliedly we can find the rise of capitalism as a consequence of world war, but this kind of implied evidence can be found in Waliullah's novels too. Kafka hasn't professionalized the history or geography of the Jews in his novels. Any human being in any country may become K. , Joseph K. or Gregor Samsa. Isn't Kafka relevant now? If Chilekothar Sepai and Chader Amabosya are weighed on the scale of literary scale, both of the side will hang over the same distance from the ground, I believe.
Many think psychoanalytic novels are flat novels and of no work. They give priority of event- centered novels. In that sense, James Joyce is of no use as he has used stream of consciousness technique which usually focuses on mind rather than on events!
At last, Waliullah has already slapped on the faces of his critics after his death with recently discovered The Ugly Asian which can be considered as the first post- colonial novel written by a writer originated from the land of Bangladesh. India fortunately has many like R. K. Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand and many more. But we only have Waliullah. After reading this novel the reader will realize that Waliullah was not indifferent to the history of his native country, rather he was more conscious than us. We became hopeful after the British had left us. In a previous essay on Shurjo Dighal Bari I wrote about the prophetic mind of a writer. Waliullah was prophetic as he knew that after the end of colonialism another monster called neo- colonialism was already emerging. Another superpower called USA was taking the place of Britain and we see the mechanical and capitalized life around us as a result of neo colonial aggression. The Ugly Asian which was written in 1962, prophesizes this cultural and social destruction. So, being specifically historical is not important, being universal matters and both Waliullah and Elias are successful in this regard.
The Writer is Teaches English at Notre Dame University