A well-known fiction writer of Bangladesh, Kazi Rafi has eleven novels and six volumes of stories to his credit. Born in 1975, Rafi had served the Bangladesh Army for about 23 years. His novels include: Dhusor Swopner Sassandra (The Blurred Dream of Sassandra), Trimohini, Le Jo Nodir bake(In the Shore of the River Le Jo), Rangdhonur Sanko (The Bridge on the Rainbow), Chayar Nirbason Nirbasoner Chaya (The Exiled Shadow and Shadow of Exile), Nisorge Niruddha (Surrounded by the Nature), Arorar Angul (Arora's Nail), Adhare Lukano Sur(The tune Lost in the Dark), Gramtir Nam Godhulimaya (Twilight-love - the name of a village), Nora's Castle of Casablanca etc.
The volumes of his short stories are: Rupdangar Sondhane (In Search of Rupdanga), Nisongotar Nagno Kholos(The Naked Slough of Solitude), Password, Atlanticer Poronta Bikel (The Setting Afternoon of the Atlantic), Bristi Rater Ovisarini (The Lover in a Rainy Night) etc.
His first novel Dhushor Sopner Sassandra was awarded with the prestigious HSBC -Kali O Kolom Literary award in 2010. Rafi's magnum opus Trimohini (2014) has drawn huge attention from the literary critics of the country. Rafi does have the deeper insight to dive into the glorious past of the Bengali nation and has the tremendous spirit to dream for a brighter future for the whole human race.
Recently, Rafi was interviewed by the noted Toronto-based writer and critic Subrata Kumar Das through email. The interview is being presented for the readers of The Asian Age.
Subrata Kumar Das (SKD): What was your first published writing? Did you have a practice of writing for long?
Kazi Rafi (KR): My first published writing was a novel, Dhusor Swopner Sassandra. I started writing it in Africa in 2005. I used to write letters to my father in my boyhood. After being engaged with my would-be wife, I also used to write letters to her. My mother used to recite poetry. Hundreds of poems were there on her lips. That also have tuned and enriched my thoughts, created a tendency to compose strong and poetic sentences in my childhood. Pablo Neruda wrote in a poem that says "God helps me from inventing when I sing." It is so very true for me too. I started writing without understanding much. I listen to my heart and kept on singing the words I loved. And that's how I gave birth to my first novel.
SKD: What made you publish your first book? Why did you decide to publish a book?
KR: I was a very good reader. But as I told, seeing the oppression in Africa by the mighty nations, my heart cried out for them. The sufferings of the Africans caused by their own rulers, their lost languages and disintegration of their culture pained me a lot. I felt to intensify the reality and then undermine the rulers and mighty nations. I thought that it is only possible if I could create a novel depicting the inner state of the oppression and simplicity of their life.
At the same time, nature of Ivory Coast, its forest and hills, river - Lake Sassandra and landscape made me very nostalgic. I smelled my memories with different fragrances of life. Flying in a helicopter of the United Nations, going to the remotest village inside the deep jungle, I felt as if a story is written much earlier and I was only reading it. Strong feelings through my realization compelled me to write. I started writing….I was obsessed writing my first novel. Within eight months I gave birth to a 329-pagenovel.
SKD: Did you have a regular habit of reading much? Which Bengali writers have impressed you most?
KR: Yes, I had a habit of reading both Bangla and world literature. I did my graduation in English Literature because of my interest in literature. Three Bondopadhays - Tarashankar, Bibhuti Bhushan and Manik, Amiyabhushan Majumder, Satinath Bhaduri, Akhtaruzzaman Elias, Hasan Azizul Haque, Ahmed Sofa, Shahidul Zahir attracted me a lot.
SKD: Have you ever been influenced by any non-Bengali writer? What features of their writings have imprinted permanently on your writing?
KR: I have a tendency of not being influenced by anything or anyone. Even if I feel so, I drop the story or expunge the linguistic or artistic style and keep it pending for long. I want to create something which would have signature of my own soul and language. Still, I would say I'm mostly influenced by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Latin American literary giant. Though my writings have permanent imprints of Marquez's style and features but I'm influenced by his mesmerizing art of storytelling. Yes, I did learn the technique of the interior monologue that was useful to me in my future writing. His masterpiece 'Hundred Years of Solitude' is one of my most favourites.
SKD: Some of the settings of your novels are developed in foreign lands. What are those?
KR: I have four novels settings of which are in the other parts of the world, even sometimes taking the foreign characters as well. Those are: Dhusor Swopner Sassandra, Le Jo Nodir Banke, Norar Castle of Casablanca and Arorar Angul.
SKD: What novels of yours have taken Bangladesh as their setting?
KR: My all novels except the above mentioned ones are set in Bangladesh. I would like to mention here about my Trimohini. The plot of this novel not only takes Bangladesh in its plot, it is deeply connected with the Bengali root through thousands years which determines our identity as the Bengali. The vastcanvas of Trimohiniis also intermingled with our history, culture and art. It encompasses our heritage and geography as well. At the same time, the story takes the readers to an imaginary land where I have projected the truest Bengal nation and Bangladesh with its glorious past. The bloodshed, love and betrayal - everything is there in Trimohini. The noted litterateur of the country Hasan Azizul Haque wrote on Trimohiniin the reputed Kali O Kolom journal and described it as an epic novel.
SKD: Among all your novels, Trimohini is the most talked of one. You have meticulously illuminated the bygone history of Bengal where the Hindu and Buddhist ancestors had prevailed. How did you dare to encapsulate such an uncommon theme and plot for this novel?
KR: In 2007,I was going through an article where our Pundra Civilization is described and the writer mentioned that it is from Pandua, somewhere in India. I was shocked. The ancient Pundrabardhan is few kilometres away from my own village and town too! At that moment I promised to myself that I would create something to prove that this civilization belongs to none but to the Bengali. Yes, I started writing my second novel before the first one is published at the age of 32. It took long five years to create Trimohini. But not a single day, not even a single moment neither in my dream I was without the thought of Trimohini.
SKD: Many of your novels have fact, figure and history…
KR: These are not very essential for a novel or short story. Rather so much of facts and figures weaken the soul of the story. A real good story is so very powerful that influences the fact. Like in my Trimohini, there is a part where king Jayapir meets the concubine (temple-girl) of Pundra name Komala. She first danced in front of the king with a wet sari as if she is coming up from the sea. I named this dance Basob Dutta's dance. This big part of Jayapir and Komala is not there in the history as described. But many believe that this part of the story is from the real history as I have pictured. Fact is that, in the long run, history regarding Jayapir and Komala would be established from my story. In course of time people starts believing the writer than that of a historian or a politician or even a government. A writer consciously uses facts, figures and history to make his story credible.
SKD: Now let's turn to your short stories. What features, do you think, you do have in your short stories?
KR: Subratada, what I think about short story is that, once readers finished reading a short story they should feel as if he had suddenly saw his/her lost lover or dead mother/father in a speedy train where he is a passerby. Professor Rezvi Zaman wrote about my short stories - "Kazi Rafi is a dexterous short story writer and an excellent aesthete. His short stories are enriched with credible analysis of human nature, subtle observation of social problems, psychoanalysis and cultural disintegration. His art of storytelling is mesmerizing. His language is highly poetic and compassionate. In his stories Rafi has rightly diagnosed the perilous and morbid effects of socio-cultural disintegration, erosion of traditional values, extreme alienation, neurotic disorder and intricacies of the contemporary time."
SKD: Many of your stories mould around magic realistic trends in them. What made you to adopt those?
KR: All writers want to imprint an image in the mind of the reader so that reader never forgets his story. In fact, every writer wants to establish credibility by his or her literary trick. But it is difficult. And surrealism is much more difficult a path of doing so. In magic realism probability seems difficult but it finds probabilities out of real facts. Characters seem to be most unrealistic but it determines the strongest nature and truest characters. If someone chooses to mould his story through magic realism and can do it, that work is much credible. I love to see my stories, though it is full of imagination, might be a fantasy - yet credible. Readers forget the stories full of fantasy but they remember if the fantasy is imprinted in their minds if expressed through magic realism. That's, I would say, the great literary trick.
SKD: What is your evaluation of the recent fictions written in Bangladesh?
KR: Good writers have come up and good works are being done. Wasi Ahmed, Zakir Talukder, Ahmed Mostafa Kamal, Swakrita Noman, Anif Rubedare some of the promising writers nowadays.
SKD: I am sure; you have been working on a new book at the moment. Could you please shed a light on your forthcoming work for our readers?
KR: Yes, Subratada. I'm working on a love-fiction. The novel would try to determine the pattern of love where the hero and the heroine are from different backgrounds and cultures. It will search the truest nature of love through alienation, depression caused by pandemic. During the time of Corona, Tahia, the protagonist, would fly from Dhaka to her ex-boyfriend in Sydney, where she was brought up, creating a suicidal scenario. With a new life she will start realizing life. The memories, moments and feelings she had with her husband would haunt her to find the true meaning of love and life. I'm not sure how the novel will take its final shape. But I'm trying and penning through my imagination.
SKD: Thanks for giving me time.
KR: Thank you so much, Subratada. My regards to you and love for my readers.
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