Published:  02:01 AM, 20 November 2017

Dhaka LitFest 2017 and our heritage

The Dhaka LitFest 2017 has just drawn to a close. The three-day affair was once more an occasion for writers in Bangladesh and from abroad to link up with readers and culture enthusiasts in this country. Indeed, such endeavours, which have been taking place for the past few years, are a strong hint of the cultural revival we in Bangladesh have been trying to bring to light, given that disappearing bookshops, shrinking reading space and a qualitative decline in books have been part of our cultural life in the recent past. New bookshops have been coming up, of course, but alongside there are the stories of all those other bookstores which have been vanishing under the euphemistically termed downsizing of these shops.

There is little question that we in Bangladesh are today in great need of presenting our literature, indeed our culture, in these post-modern times to the outside world. Where writers from India and Pakistan, or with an Indian or Pakistani background, have made their mark on global literature owing to the fact that they write in English and so reach wider audiences, we in Bangladesh have lagged behind in the field owing to our inability to present similar instances of writers and writing abroad.

To be sure, a new generation of young Bengali writers in English has been coming up, but it is only through exposure of the kind made possible by such occasions as the Dhaka LitFest that they can draw the attention of the world to their works. That is one important reason why we think the LitFest has been a boost to our cultural ambitions.

There is too the larger reality, which is that good efforts must be expended in producing meaningful works on Bangladesh's literature and history in the English language in order for the country's cultural heritage to be reflected in a positive way abroad.

At the same time, with all the political, historical and literary works in Bengali which have regularly been the centerpiece at such occasions as the annual Ekushey Boi Mela, it is important that publishers undertake the task, through government support if necessary, of translating them into good, modern English --- of the kind that avoids stilted or old-fashioned expressions.

We cannot escape the fact that English happens to be a major means of connecting cultural dots, a truth which has so clearly been accepted by writers in our neighbourhood. If we wish to go beyond the platitudes of emphasizing our heritage over and over again, it is important that we look to English as the vehicle that will help us underscore our history and our heritage before the world.

The Dhaka LitFest 2017 was recognition once again of the importance Bangladesh has in terms of global perspectives. Let that recognition now translate, on our part, into concrete achievements.

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