Liton Chakraborty Mithun focuses dark side of the society: outrage, indignation, fury that revealed by the writer through satire, romance and other postmodern literature forms.
Bangladeshi postmodernist writer Syed Manzoorul Islam's new collection of stories titled Ekattor O Anyanya Golpo ([Nineteen] Seventy-one and Other Stories) proved a crowd-puller after its first publication in this year's Amar Ekushey Book Fair. "A critic by training and a writer by passion", Syed Islam's stories draw upon a spectrum of life experiences of people from across various strata of life. Stories in this volume of this multiple award-winning writer, inarguably, reflect "our everyday life, love-romance-enragement-jealousy-frustration" as pointed out in the blurb. The storyteller's penchant for humor and satire, fluidity of language, mastery in manufacturing a riveting story out of simple materials, narrating style and above all, his social commitment enrich and enliven his stories. As a direct student of this professor-writer and a spell-bound reader myself of his stories, I have enjoyed this collection as a new lease of life in my reading experience. I find the professor already speaking through his stories whisking me back to his classes!
The volume, however, commences with the title story 'Ekattor' meaning [nineteen] seventy-one based on Bangladesh's war of liberation. The protagonist is, interestingly, a Royal Bengal tiger. The story centers round a family that has taken shelter in a makeshift bungalow in the Sundarbans to save lives from invading Pakistani forces. In addition, the regular presence of the tiger close by terrifies them. However, it turns out that the tiger jumps upon a group of advancing Pakistani army and killed quite a few of them before dying a martyr's death.
The tiger, dubbed Maharaj the King, perhaps symbolizes the unknown and forgotten freedom fighters who made supreme sacrifices for us. Moreover, the story offers a snapshot of terrifying and nightmarish experience as well as resistance of Bengalis during the war of liberation. Likewise, the story "Aagun" (Fire) is also one that deals with sufferings and resistance. In the story, a CNG four-wheeler driver named Kalam Mian discovers fire in the eyes of an ill-fated girl called Jamila. She has always been at the receiving end of all bullying, beatings, eve-teasing and coercive patriarchal attitude from her family members and neighbors. Finally, she shows an extraordinary courage and spirit of resistance as symbolized by the fire in her eyes against all forms of oppression.
'Ektai Golpo' (Only One Story) starts with disappearance of Mr. Munim, husband of the key character Preety. As the story advances, there unfolds a streak of twists and turns. Anyone or everyone from her former boss and suitor for hands and politician Mr. Wadud, to the gang-leader and honcho of an international group of gold-smuggling racket Mr. Altab Mian into whose bad book comes Mr. Munim, to her former colleague and writer Mr. Tuhin Khondakar is behind this otherwise cinematic plot. In the same fashion, the story "Alter Ego" has a cinematic edge to it. An honest retired lawyer Mr. Afzal decides to live in a retreat on the outskirts of the city to avoid urban cacophony and suffocating life-style.
Virtually abandoned by his children who have settled abroad, the lawyer employs a good-hearted village family to look after him. Problem arises when a nefarious gang leader named Dawood manages to come out of prison. It is Mr. Afzal himself who pleaded against him to ensure his death penalty on double-murder charge only to be upturned in the appeal later. Dawood now wants to punish him in most sadistic of ways, and there are a host of funny exchanges between them typical of Bollywood cinema. Does he finally succeed in his mission? However, the story brings out a lot of human dimensions and I got thoroughly hooked up while reading it.
Our society has its dark sides and many poor village girls are often seen to fall prey to patriarchal domineering and sexual exploitation. The protagonist of the story "Gorto" (The Ditch) named Meena, a fourteen-year old rural girl encounters a horrific rape attempt after she has been sent along to serve her master's newly wedded daughter in the city. But, with an extraordinary reflex and presence of mind, she saves her and puts the attempter in danger. It is a story of resistance and has its fair share of humor. However, the story "Lokta" (The Man) has a kind of tit-for-tat storyline. A career-oriented, cynical University Professor enjoys an undue and overrated reputation of a gas expert leveraging his newspaper columns, speeches and papers read out in seminars on gas and other fuel items. This sell-out aligns himself with a multinational company and becomes complicit in exploiting mineral resources of the country betraying with people who trust him.
He also receives due poetic justice finally. Anyway, criminal elements and gang culture are a growing menace to urban landscape of Bangladesh. "Patamrigo" (The Deer on the Leaves) is a pointer to this. Events of land-grabbing, smuggling rackets, musclemanship, fatal rivalry between gangs and betrayal at personal levels are part of that bleak picture. The writer makes a satirical punch revealing that the braggadocious criminals are also helpless and vulnerable somehow or other.
Syed Islam is fond of romanticism and romantic elements sprinkle across most of his stories. 'Sneha' is a great exemplar of this mode of literature. It starts with portrayal of the final scene of a Dhallywood movie that has a tragic-comic tinge to it. The heroine is named Sneha in the flick and her image impresses upon Tasir, the protagonist of our story. But, a life of endless struggle, poverty and onerous responsibility pushes the image into the corner of mind. He never finds her match in any girl that comes across his path until finally he chances upon a girl waiting for a job interview. He gets romantically charged, but after a few attempts he shockingly comes to learn from her that she is married. What happens to Tasir and the romantic potential of the story? It is for you to explore! The final story "Sammoti" (Agreement) ties romanticism to the idea of resistance.
A wayward chap named Asif, son of local union council chairman falls in love with a village beau named Rozina. She has, of course, a lover who is a doctor now in a town hailing from the same locale. The chairman and his stray son are adept at forcing out agreement from all, and they wield their power over Rozina's family as well to concede her in marriage to Asif. Ironically, in a twist and turn of the event a multinational company comes to grab lands including that of the chairman with the help of administration. There emerges a popular resistance and Asif has a meager chance to win her heart should he join the protest. Will he succeed or back out of the escapade that involves mortal risk?
Syed Manzoorul Islam is a master storyteller and a massive presence in contemporary Bangladeshi literary gallery. He self-declaredly gleans materials from real-life incidents, facts and experiences and puts his own spin on them. Through the critical radar of an expert literature teacher in the department of English at Bangladesh's premier university, he scrutinizes events, happenings surrounding us and their consequences and gives them a fictional new life. Thus, "each and every story turns out to be an impossible-to-forget experience of traveling across different linear and meandering paths of life" as claimed in the blurb. I don't see why lovers of literature or aficionados, critics and reviewers won't pick up the volume and engage with it from their varied interests and perspectives.
The reviewer is a budding writer and critic. He can be reached at [email protected]