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Banglamati is the first, complete literary online magazine of bangali literature. In 1990s a literary magazine emerged which was edited by poet Maruf Raihan. In August, 2008 the magazine came out with new look and all technological advancements for internet as Banglamati. The logo of this magazine is designed by one of the eminent artists of Bangladesh Qaiyum Chowdhury.

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September Issue 2010


 Essay

FOLK ARTS AND CRAFTS OF BANGLADESH
Muhammad Sirajuddin

The people of Bangladesh are said to have been drawn from a combine of ethnic strains of Proto-Australoid, Negrit, Proto-Nordic, Mongoloid, Homo-Alponus, Indid, Melanid, Caucasoid, etc. and these ethic groups used to speak in distant past such original languages as Austric (eg. Khmer of Combodia, Mone of Myanmar), Austronasian (eg. Thai), Tibeto Burman (eg. tribal languages of North and Eastern Bangladesh), Aryan (ie Indo-European), Dravidian (ie South Asian/East Asian), Semitic (ie Middle Eastern), etc. Through a process of evolution, the people of Bangladesh now constitute a homogeneous group of Bangla speaking people, and have an integrated uniquely rich cultural heritage. Folk arts and crafts of Bangladesh is part of this rich Bangalee heritage.

Folk arts and crafts

The term folk originates from the beliefs, customs and culture of a common people. Folklore refers to the traditional beliefs, stories and customs of a community passed on by word of mouth. Folk art of an ethnic community is the expression of creative skill in intangible and tangible forms, such as story, song, painting, sculpture, craft, etc. Craft is an activity involving skill in making things by hand. Therefore, folk arts and crafts can be described as aesthetical expressions of a group of common people belonging to the same ethnic group, and expressed both in intangible and tangible forms; the intangible expressions are vocal, like folklore and music, and the tangible expressions take artistic forms, like folk paintings, sculptures and crafts.


Folk arts and crafts of an ethnic community have some characteristics in common. For example, (i) the place of production is the cottage or household of the artisan, (ii) the artisan is normally the owner of the production center, (iii) the artisan has either inherited the skill for making things by hand with simple tools or acquired the skill from a Guru (master), employer, or acquired the same by own ingenuity, (iv) products are made from raw materials as available locally, (v) design is traditional of the community with motifs mostly drawn from religious beliefs/witchcrafts, or symbols such as cross, triangle, circle, or motifs from immediate natures or innovated by the artisan, and (vi) the volume of production depends on community/market demand.

Folk art is based on folk beliefs and religious practices of a common ethnic group. It is the creation of the common man for the common man, as different from the courtier or the court of the ruler. It is an aesthetically directed expression in visual or auditory image and symbol. Folk art can be described as a kind of creative work of practical use by an ethnic group made by an individual artisan or by a group of people from within the ethnic group. Folk art is a living art.

Folk art is different other marginal forms of art work, viz. cottage industry, handicraft, craft, ethnic art, ancient art. Cottage industry is any product produced at small scale in the household or business location of an entrepreneur, including skillful products of artisans. Handicrafts are manually produced by artisans using own skills and simple tools, and having visual appeals. Handicrafts indicate objects of utility and of decoration. Crafts are handicrafts except that the aesthetic appeal of such crafts makes these items of collection and these may find place in museums.

Bangladesh is a predominantly rural community and has rich traditions of folk arts and crafts. Folk arts of Bangladesh can be categorized into oral tradition, painting, and artifact. The oral tradition consists of a body of knowledge based on mythical and religious beliefs as also mundane stories catering to fantasies of the common people. The oral tradition also comprises folk songs, ballads, Kathakata or bayan, punthi, jatra, popular riddles, jokes and quizzes.

Folk painting constitutes a wide range of aesthetical expressions in color such as stylized manuscripts on palm leaf and handmade paper, alpana, pata chitra, pata chitra, karandi chitra, sara chitra, deyal chitra, mask chitra, piri chitra, ongo chitra, chal chitra, kushthi chitra, ghuri chitra, krira chitra, nakshipitha, puthi chitra, ghata chitra, pakha chitra, Ghazir pot chitra, and Maharram chitra (which includes a wide range of visual expression, such as imaginary tazia of tomb of Imam Hasan and Imam Hossain, panjaton or the palms of the Imams, horse named duldul, flying horse called borak, chhera shirni, etc.). Folk paintings also include glazed tiles and leather works painted with motifs representing religious beliefs, witchcraft’s and fantasies of the common man.

Folk painters of Bangladesh belong to a large group of artisans based on specific skills such as garland making (malakar), blacksmithy (karmakar), goldsmithy (swarnokar), pottery (kumbhokar), carpentry (sutradhar), masonry (ostagar), scroll painting (potua), painter (chitrakar), boat painting (chhoiyal), weaving (tanti), metal working (sekra), etc.

Folk artifacts constitute a wide range of folk sculptures and crafts made by artisans by hand with simple tools from a variety of media in such skills as metal works (iron, brass, bronze, silver, gold), musical instruments, jute works, cotton works, wool works, wall hangings, floor spread, floor mat, clay/pottery/ceramics works, wood works, shell works, toy, lace works, embroidery, reed works (cane, bamboo, jute, murta, shola), palm fibre works, mask, basketry, bone and horn, leather works, dowry box, glass works, and other gift items of various media.



THE ORAL TRADITION

Geetika (ballad)

Geetika (ballad) occurs distinctively is oral tradition of Bangladesh folklore/folk arts. A geetika is a form of verse, often a narrative set to music. Most of geetikas are written in stanzas or quatrains (four-line stanzas) of alternative lines of iambic (i.e. one short or unstressed syllable followed by one long or stressed syllable) tetra metre (eight syllables) and iambic trimester (six syllables), known as ballad metres. Usually, only the second and fourth line of a quatrain are rhymed (in the scheme a, b, c, b), which has been taken to suggest that, originally, ballads consisted of couplets (two lines) of rhymed verse, each of fourteen syllables. However, there is considerable variation on this pattern in almost every respect, including length, number of lines and rhyming scheme, making the strict definition of a ballad extremely difficult. In Bangla language, most of the ballads follow Payar style of poetic metre, in which each line consists of fourteen syllables.

In all traditions most ballads are narrative in nature, with a self contained story, often concise and relying on imagery, rather than description, which can be tragic, historical, romantic or comic. Another common feature of ballads is repetition, sometimes of fourth lines in succeeding stanzas, as a refrain, sometimes of third and fourth lines of a stanza and sometimes of entire stanzas.

The most notable of ballads in Bangladesh have been compiled by Ray Bahadur Dinesh Chandra Sen in Purba Banga Geetika, in four volumes, especially the fourth one, Mymensingh Geetika. He quoted Ms. Hague about the Geetika as saying, “In reading these ballads one in reminded of other classical master pieces. They deserve to be on the same shelf as these, among the books that never grow old and in which each generation discovers new reasons to love them” (Dinesh Sen, Banga Darshan, volume-1, Dey’s Publishing, Calcutta, 1999).

Kathakata/Bayan

Throughout the region of Bangla speaking people Kathaks or story tellers tell stories of people and events in rhythmetic dramatic style through the charm of voices and delivery mode in moons glow, candle light or pidim light (earthen lamp, fueled by fish-oil or vegetable-oil). The listeners sway with the movement of hand and body of the Kathak. The kathak narrates fables, great achievements and disasters, tragedies of worst kinds and/or concludions showing of overcoming set books and achieving the desired.

With the inroad of television into rural life Kathak art is on the wane; but Kathakata or Bayan or story-telling remaining a heritage of oral folk art tradition.

A famous traditional Kathakata or Bayan is about Zindapir who helps protect children from witches, against incurable diseases, individual or family mishaps, natural disasters or unforeseen misfortunes.

Another kathakata is related to the fetes of Khawaz Khizr, who to the Muslim is an apostle of Allah responsible for protection of mankind from disasters emanating from sea or for that matter any water body. Khawaz is also a god of Hindus in Bangladesh; but his super natural attributes and actions are similar to those of the Muslim apostle.

Punthi

Punthi is a branch of folk literature that tells myths and stories of heroes and heroines having supernatural attributes and who are dear to the common people. It is a piece of poetical work written in payar metre and normally read aloud by a Bayati or story-teller to a group of listeners at moonlit night or in pidim light. A Punthi normally tells story of a hero who combines characters of legendary figures of Hindus and Muslims. Stories of Sonavan bibi of Tongi, and Gazi Kalu Champabati of the Sundarbans, are populars themes of Punthis.

Jatra

Jatra is a living folk art in Bangladesh, combining characteristics of a folk drama, enacted on an open stage, narrating a ballad or a Kathakata or a Punthi story or even an epic war by a professional group of folk artists (actor, actress, director, helps, etc.) in rural and selected urban areas, mostly in winter season. For example, Gunai Bibir Gan or the Story of Ms. Gunai, is a Kathakata, when narrated by a Kathak (story-teller), a ballad when presented by the same folk drama group before a sophisticated urban drama audience, and a Kathakata before a similar crowd in places like the Shahid Minar. Gunai Binir Gan is one of the most celebrated of the folk art Jatra in Bangladesh.

Bera Utsab

Both Zindapir and Khawaz Khizr also occur in Bera Utsab or festival of floating house let on a Bhela or raft made of banana trunk. This festival is observed in Mainat (Dhaka), Mongal Dewan Bari (Manikganj), Kaunnara (Manikganj), Astagram (Kishorganj), and other places.
 


Folk songs

As compared to the classical form of court art (Uchchango Sangit), Bangladesh is so rich in the intangible folk art, Palli Geeti (rural song), that one form of folk art, Baul song, has been declared by the UNESCO as World Heritage.

Folk songs are of various kinds, depending on theme, composition, musical notes, metre, melody, etc. Popular folk songs are categorized into Baul, Bhatiali, Bhaoayea, Jari, Sari, Chatka, Gambhira, Tusu, Jhumur, Ghatu, Alcap, etc.

Baul songs

Bauls are a folk of unorthodox religious devotees singing devotional songs in a special mode, thereby making Bauls followers of folk religion of a kind. Baul folk religion of Guruism Sahjia, Shunya take the principal tenants of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and folk beliefs and synthesizes the same into a “human religion” and strives to find out the “Maner Manush”, the “Lord” residing within the devotee. Siaj Sain and his disciple Lalon are the great expotents of Baulism. Bauls have a few gharana or schools such as Tantric, Sadhak, Darbeshi, Kabi, Kartabhaja, Vaishnar, Gaur, etc. Baul group of songs has been declared World Heritage by the UNESCO.
Bhatialy song

Bangladesh is the largest delta in the world through which flows three mighty rivers – the Ganga, the Brahmaputra, the Meghna, and a few hundred tributaries of these rivers. The main mode of transport in this land of rivers is boat, and Bhatialy is the song of boatmen. It is sung in loud voice, as loud as to reach the sky. The subject of Bhatialy song varies from marami (mystic) to mundane love, mostly the yearning of the newlywed bride to go back to the parents’ house or the yearning of the newlywed bride to meet her husband who has gone abroad or distance places for work.

Bhaoayea

The way bhatialy is the song of boatmen, Bhaoayea is the song of bullock-cart drivers, known as Garowan or Garial. It is sung in high pitch, as high as to reach the four corners of the globe. The theme of the song could be mystic or the yearning of the damsel to meet her lover or the beloved ones left behind.

Sari Gan

In this land of rivers a great pastime of boatmen during the high monsoons is boat racing, and Sari gan or boat song is sung during boat race to encourage faster rowing. Normally, boatman songs take a mystic theme or it could be vulgar even.

Jari Gan

Jari gan is a form of folk song which takes religious episodes or mystic themes as the subject. The singers are mostly mendicants belonging to the faith of Islam. Most of the jari songs tell of saddest events in Muslim history, as for example, the story of Karbala, narrating the killing of Prophet Muhammad’s (Peace be upon him) grandson, Imam Hossain (May Allah be pleased with him) by the second Caliph of the Ummaya Dynasty, Yazid I.

Gonsa Gan

Gonsa gan is a type of light song which is popular in the districts of Noakhali, Mymensingh, Kishoreganj, and other regions. Gonsa songs follow the Punthi style of telling story. In Gonsa gan, a Sarkar is the main story teller and he is supported by a few Dohars or supporting singers.

Kabigan

Kabigan or song of the poets is not really any song; it is a war of words between two poets who compose poetic works impromptu. Before starting the war of words the two poets agree on a subject, which can be on anything! The competing poets, Kabials as they are known, go on building up arguments, as if in a court of law before a judge, in this case the judge being the audience of an open air gathering. The Kabials are assisted by Dohars or singers on antara or the middle stave of the theme song. For example, a Dohar Antara of my childhood kabigan read in rhymes as follows:
“Sadher kalmilata/ Jaibi kotha/ Pani sukailey!” (Oh my beloved Kalmilata (a watery creeper), thriving in the monsoons)/ Where shall you take refuge?/ When there shall be no water).  continued...

Muhammad Sirajuddin obtained in 1958 an MA in Ancient History and Archeology from the Department of History, University of Dhaka. He joined as a lecturer in the same department in May 1959 and taught Ancient History and Archeology upto May 1960 when he was dismissed from his job and arrested for his political views by the Martial Law government. However, he was allowed in 1960 to join as Assistant Editor, The Pak Jamhuriat in the Department of Publications, Ministry of Information, Government of Pakistan. He joined Pakistan’s elite administrative cadre. He worked for the UNESCO as a consultant during 2007-08 for evaluation of achievements under Education for All in Bangladesh.
 

 Literature
Jibanananda Das - Essence of Modern Bengali Poetry
Faizul Latif Chowdhury

During the latter half of the twentieth century, Jibanananda Das emerged as the most popular poet of modern Bengali literature. Popularity apart, Jibanananda Das distinguished himself as an extraordinary poet presenting a paradigm hitherto unknown. It is a fact that his unfamiliar poetic diction, choice of words and thematic inclination took time to reach the heart of the readers. Nevertheless, today it can be said without exaggeration that the poetry of Jibanananda has become the defining essence of modernism in twentieth century Bengali poetry.

As of 2010, Bengali language is the native language of around 312 million people living in Bangladesh and India or elsewhere. To all of them, poetry has immense appeal. Bengali poetry of the modern age flourished on the elaborate foundation laid by Michael Madhusudan Dutta [1824-1873] and Rabindranath Tagore [1861-1941]. Rabindranath, a literary giant without a parallel during his time, ruled over the domain of Bengali poetry and literature for more than half a century bestowing inescapable influence on the contemporary poets. Bengali literature caught widespread attention of the international literary world when Rabindranath Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913, for Gitanjali, an anthology of poems rendered into English with the title Song Offering. Since then Bengali poetry has traveled a long way. While it has evolved around its own tradition, it has responded to the poetry movements around the world. During this period it has assumed various dimensions in different tones, colours and essence.

In Bengal, the departure from the Tagorian worldview and stylistics was evidenced in the early days of twentieth century. Poet Quazi Nazrul Islam [1899-1976] popularized himself on a mass scale with patriotic theme and tenor. However, almost at the same time, a number of new generation poets, mostly students of English literature, consciously attempted to align Bengali poetry with the essence of modernism emerging around the world that had commenced towards the end of the nineteenth century. Much of these can be attributed to the trends in contemporary Europe and America. Five poets particularly acclaimed for creating a post-Tagorian poetic paradigm and for infusing Bengali poetry with modernism are Sudhindranath Dutta [1901-1960], Buddhadeb Basu [1908-1974], Amiyo Chakravarty [1901-1986], Jibanananda Das [1899-1954] and Bishnu Dey [1909-1982]. The contour of modernism in twentieth century Bengali poetry was sharply drawn by these five pioneers and some of their contemporaries.

As a poet Jibanananda Das was little understood during his lifetime. Jibanananda’s labyrinthine poetic syntax was a radical transition from the smooth poetry of his predecessors and contemporaries. It was much complicated and apparently arbitrary. However, the novelty of his approach did not go unrecognized although he received mixed attention from the readers and critics. Many, including those who appreciated his unique poetic diction, found him increasingly incomprehensible. On occasions, he faced merciless criticism from leading literary personalities of his time. It is on record that Rabindranath Tagore failed to come to terms with this ingenuity. On one occasion he even delivered a few pitiless remarks on his poetic approach while praising his poetic strength. On a different occasion, while compiling it in an anthology, Rabindranath truncated his ‘Mrittyur Aage’ (Before Death) by excluding some stanzas — a blatant evidence of his failure to realize the inner meaning of the text. Nevertheless, destiny reserved a crown for Jibanananda.

Surely, his early poems bear the influence of Quazi Nazrul Islam [1899-1976] and some other lyricists like Satyandranath Dutta [1882-1922]. However, before long, he thoroughly overcame all influences and created a new poetic diction all for himself. Poet Buddhadeb Basu was among the few who first recognized his extraordinary stylistics and thematic novelty and projected him with due importance. However, as his style and diction matured with time, his message appeared to be obscure. Indeed readers found it difficult to adapt Jibanananda poems to their sensibility. The allegation of obscurity escalated when his later poems were published. In retrospect, one can conclude that the contemporary readership was not yet ready to enjoy Jibanananda’s new poetry.

It is only after his death that a competent readership started to emerge with a penetrating insight into his new poetry pregnant with message behind inventive images and oblique metaphoric expressions without a parallel in Bengali poetry till today. Most of the later readers were not only comfortable with Jibanananda's style and diction, but also enjoyed his poetry with perceptive response and interpretative appreciation. Questions about the obscurity of his poetic message and ambiguity of his expressions receded. By the time his birth centenary was being celebrated in 1999, Jibanananda Das had become certainly the most popular and the most read poet of Bengali literature. Even during the last quarter of the twentieth century, Jibanananda continued to be relevant to the new taste and fervour of the post-modern era. This was possible because the making of his poetry had undergone many cycles of changes, and his later poems contained elements that precisely corresponded to post-modern characteristics.

Jibanananda Das started to write and publish in the 1920s. During his lifetime he published only 269 poems in different journals and magazines of which 162 were collected in 7 anthologies, namely, Jhara Palak (Fallen Feathers), Dhusar Pandulipi (Grey Manuscript), Banalata Sen (Banalata Sen), Mahaprithibi (The Great World), Saat-ti Taaraar Timir (The Darkness of Seven Stars), Shrestha Kavita (The Best Poems) and Bela Obela Kaalbela (Time, Wrong Time, Fatal Time). One of his most popular books, Rupashi Bangla (The Beauteous Bengal, or Bengal the Beautiful) was published post-humously published in 1957 — three years after his unfortunate death in 1954.

Since his demise many of his unpublished poems have been discovered and published — thanks to the dedicated efforts of his brother Ashokananda Das, his nephew Dr. Bhumendra Guha, and some researchers, among who the prominent are Abdul Mannan Syed from Bangladesh and Deviprasad Bandopadhya from the West Bengal of India. By 2009, the total number of his published and unpublished poems stood at 840. Some more poems have reportedly been discovered since then. In addition, a huge number of novels and short-stories were discovered and published about the same time.

Jibanananda-scholar professor Clinton Booth Seely of the Chicago University termed Jibanananda Das “Bengal's most cherished poet since Rabindranath." As back as 1943, poet Buddhadeb Basu found in Jibanananda Das a ‘universal’ poet who although occurs within the neighbourhood as a matter of rarity, belongs to no particular country, race or cast ; but the music of whose poetry — traveling through the entirety of human joy and grief, and transcending all rises and falls of civilizations — strikes our consciousness and, thereby, our boastful ‘present’ is at once crushed into the whole of ‘past’ and ‘future’.

To Joe Winter, a British poet and translator, reading the poetry of Jibanananda is like stumbling upon a labyrinth of mind similar to the kind one imagines Camus's ‘absurd’ man toils through. Indeed, Jibanananda's poetry is sometimes an outcome of very profound feeling that is painted with imagery of a type not readily understandable. Also, the connection between the sequential lines and phrases is not obvious, and the reader is lost in the labyrinth of apparently disjointed words and phrases. On can observe that Jibanananda unmistakably transcended the traditional circular structure of poetry (intro-middle-end). Also, he disregarded the traditional pattern of logical sequence of words, lines and stanzas. His message is often hidden in a diction that requires careful reading between the lines. The following excerpt will bear the point out :

Lepers open the hydrant and lap some water.
Or may be that hydrant was already broken.
Now at midnight they descend upon the city in droves.
A motor car passed by, coughing like a goat
Scattering sloshing petrol. Though ever careful,
Someone seems to have taken a serious spill in the water
Three rickshaws trot off, fading into the last gaslight,
I turn off, leave Phears Lane, defiantly
Walk for miles, stop beside a wall
On Bentinck Street, at Territti Bazar,
There in the air dry as roasted peanuts.
[from ‘Night’, a poem on night in the Calcutta city, translated by Clinton B. Seely]

Variously branded at different times, and popularly considered as a modernist of the Yeatsian-Poundian-Eliotesque school, Jibanananda has been termed the ''truest poet'' by Annada Shanker Roy [1904-2002]. This is justified because Jibanananda conceived a poem and moulded it up in the most natural way. When a theme occurred to him, he shaped it up with such words, metaphors and imagery elements of which normally occur just around us. Often he painted a familiar landscape, albeit overshadowed by exotic strokes. In his effort to connect individual life with eternal human existence, he frequently resorted to historical references. His relatively longer poems evidence ‘jump’, reflecting an intricate thought process. Consequently Jibanananda's poetry is to be felt rather than merely read or heard. In this regard poet Joe Winter observed :
It is a natural process, though perhaps the rarest one. Jibanananda's style reminds us of this, seeming to come unbidden. It is full of sentences that scarcely pause for breath; of word-combinations that seem altogether unlikely but work; of switches in register, from sophisticated usage to a village-dialect word, that jar and in the same instant settle in the mind. Full of friction, in short, that almost becomes a part of the consciousness ticking.

It will be relevant to quote some lines from Jibanananda in support of Winter's remarks :

Nevertheless, the owl stays wide awake;
The rotten still frog begs two more moments
in the hope for another dawn
in conceivable warmth.
We feel in the deep tracelessness of flocking darkness
the unforgiving enmity
of the mosquito-net all around;
The mosquito loves the stream of life
awake in its monastery of darkness.
[from ‘One day eight years ago’, translated by Faizul Latif Chowdhury]

Or, elsewhere :

... how the wheel of justice is set in motion
by a smidgen of wind —
or if someone dies and someone else gives him a bottle
of medicine, free — then who has the profit? —
over all of this the four have a mighty word-battle.
For the land they will go to now is called the soaring river
where a wretched bone-picker and
his bone come and discover
their faces in water — till looking at faces is over.
[from ‘Idle Moment’, translated by Joe Winter]

It should be pointed out that Jibanananda successfully integrated Bengali poetry with the slightly older Euro-centric international modernist movement of early twentieth century. In this regard he possibly owes as much to his wide exotic exposure as to his intrinsic poetic talent. Although hardly appreciated during his life time, his modernism, evoking almost all the suggested elements of the phenomenon, remains unsurpassed till date despite the emergence of many notable poets during the last fifty years. His success as a modern Bengali poet may be attributed to the facts that Jibanananda in his poetry not only discovered the tract of the slowly evolving twentieth century modern mind, sensitive and reactive, full of anxiety and tension, but also invented his own diction, rhythm and vocabulary with unmistakably indigenous rooting. He maintained a self-styled lyricism and imagism mixed with an extra-ordinary existentialist sensuousness —perfectly suited to the modern temperament in the regional context, whereby he also averted fatal dehumanization that could alienate him from the people. He was at once a ''classicist'' and a ''romantic'', and created an appealing world hitherto unknown and inexperienced :

For aeons have I roamed the roads of the earth.
From the seas of Ceylon to the straits of Malaya
I have journeyed, alone, in the enduring night,
And down the dark corridor of time I have walked
Through mist of Bimbisara, Asoka, darker Vidarbha.
Round my weary soul the angry waves still roar ;
My only peace I knew with Banalata Sen of Natore.
[from ‘Banalata Sen of Natore’, translated by Chidananda Das Gupta]

As already noted above, one often comes across references to olden time and places, events and personalities, while reading Jibanananda. Sense of time and history is an unmistakable element that has shaped Jibanananda’s poetic world to a great extent. However, he lost sight of nothing surrounding him. Unlike many of his peers who blindly imitated the renowned western poets in a bid to create a new poetic style and eventually generated what may be called spurious poetry, Jibanananda remained anchored in his own soil and time, and successfully assimilated all experiences — real and virtual — and produced hundreds of unforgettable lines. It is amazing that his intellectual vision and philosophical questions were thoroughly embedded in Bengal's nature and beauty :

Amidst a vast meadow the last time when I met her
I said: ‘Come again a time like this
if one day you so wish
twenty-five years later. ’
This been said, I came back home.
After that, many a time, the moon and the stars,
from field to field have died, the owls and the rats
searching grains in paddy fields in moonlit nights
fluttered and crept! — shut eyed
many times left and right
have slept
several souls! — awake kept I
all alone — the stars on the sky
travel fast
faster still, time speeds by.
Yet it seems
Twenty-five years will forever last.
[from ‘After Twenty-five Years’, translated by Luna Rushdi]

Thematically one can trace out a thoroughly consistent pattern in Jibanananda’s poetry. To summarize, Jibanananda is amazed by the continued placement of humankind in the context of eternal flux of time wherein individual's presence is insignificant and meteoric albeit inescapable. He feels : “we are closed in, fouled by the numbness of this concentration cell” (‘Meditations’). To him, the world is inscrutable and olden ; and as a race, the mankind has been a persistent "wanderer of this world" (‘Banalata Sen’) who, according to him, has existed too long to know anything more (‘Before death’, ‘Walking alone’), or experience anything new. The justification of further existence like Mahin's horse (‘The Horses’), essentially mechanical and aimless, is no longer valid. So, it seems, as if, he had slept by the Dhanshiri river in a cold December night, and had never thought of waking up again (‘Darkness’). As an individual, tired of life and yearning for sleep (‘One day eight years ago’), Jibanananda is certain that peace can be found nowhere and, therefore, it is useless to move to a distant land since there is no way of relief from sorrows fixed by life (‘Land, Time and Offspring’). Nevertheless, he nurtures optimism and suggests : "O sailor, you press on, keep pace with the sun!" (‘Sailor’).

Notwithstanding indigenous anchorage and very own world-view, stylistics and diction, Jibanananda Das will appeal to poetry lovers and modern men of intellect and emotion all around the world of today and tomorrow. He successfully universalized his emotions by processing them through the historical human experience. He suppressed his own soul to render the voice of humanity audible—voices of the dead and alive, from time immemorial and across the globe which superbly assimilated in his poetry, albeit, sometimes, they tend to be overshadowed by his difficult style. True, Jibanananda Das poses a challenge to his readers ;— a challenge that does not arise only out of the ambiguities of his language but also because his poetry demands a radical departure from popular worldview of life and human existence. Anyone who accepts this challenge is destined to be overpowered by the truth he reveals. While the reading is over, its subdued music will continue to haunt. This is inevitable because the poet successfully captured the collective imagination of people that secretly crystallizes in human’s subconscious. Small wonder that, today, the entire Bengali speaking population speaks in his vein.



Faizul Latif Chowdhury (born June 3, 1959) is a career civil servant from Bangladesh. A literary figure and an economist at the same time, he works on corruption in public administration,tax policy process, economics of tax evasion and tax avoidance, smuggling, international trade policy and policy making process in the public sector in general. Also, he is known as a translator of Bengali poetry and international fiction. He is also a researcher on the most popular modern Bengali poet Jibanananda Das.
 

 Arts
The Synaesthetical Space
Mustafa Zaman

Brandishing the elemental to inaugurate the natural in human

Every artistic genre foregrounds its own stylistic, epistemic and even transcendental status. Yet, before even entering the world of Rokeya Sultana one may take recourse to some extraneous concepts against which her works are easily understood.

Before even attempting to explore the deeper recesses to illuminate the psychic symbols embedded in the artworks, one needs to look at the state of our sensory apparatuses vis-à-vis the restraints that began to curtail their natural application. Surely, in the state of authenticity, they are employed to reveal things which may otherwise remain unnoticed. Rokeya, as an artist who prefers to employ her crafts with similar intent, is out to discover her own ‘natural’ core in this exhibition.

Though she has so far found no reason to trash modernism, nor has she ever displayed any intent to fully avoid its attendant aestheticophilosophical offshoots as does the exponents of postmodernism and of all the other ideologies that come with the prefix ‘post’, she harbours a pre-modern tendency manifested through the celebration of what is ‘natural’ in humans. To construct her world she employs several modernist tactile ploys, yet the idiom she brings to fore is a way for her to reclaim the world of synesthesia – where all senses overlap to set off an experience which is all-encompassing. This is where she acts like a bridge between what is social and what is natural in our midst.

The world she reclaims is the world sensed through a unique archeological excavation of the consciousness possible only through an art form that tries to retain the fluidity of the primordial brain, and Rokeya does this to postulate an identity concerned mostly with womanhood in the context of ‘naturalism’ – the last remaining passage to reach back to the Edan of the mind.

Though the works in this solo exhibition are teeming with references to Buddhism and ancient Yoga, quite interestingly they also harp on what is often dismissed as ‘feminine tenderness’. She actually gets her hands around this issue only to move away from the location of the male-centered society, or the imaginings that preside over it – where women never have the chance to escape the normative gaze and its mono-coloured prism. Rokeya, through the works that recall the archaic ‘existential realities’, also manages to trace an alter-space decentering both liberal and conservative knowledge-bases and the associated grid of ratiocination. To say it in one word – Rokeya’s is an emotive mode of painting.

In this particular show, which she titles “Mystic Empire”, one gets to witness how by invoking the spirit of oneness with nature she travels further away from the empiricism that guides the modern mind.

Back in the 1980s, she attempted to create a personalized space within the given social milieu by projecting herself and her only child onto the picture plain, as has been witnessed in the etching series on the theme of worldly Madonna. And later, by giving almost a fluid form to the female figures and by juxtaposing them against the meteorology of gestured backdrops, Rokeya had been able to toss the feminine macrocosm – the body -- into the vortex of time and eternity. This was during the early years of the new millennium. It is through these works – where colour was sometimes the most decisive aesthetic element -- the idea of womanhood is brought to bear upon her aesthetic achievements. The mutation initiated by a batch of acrylic-on-canvas paintings, that too from an artist who began her career as a successful printmaker, helped set the stage for reaching the cosmic dimension she envisaged through the spontaneous marriage of colour and form.

The celebration of natural existence in her work is informed by the fact that she has, to a degree, revived some of the core factors that went into building the feminine cosmology in the first place. The colour red that crops up again and again in her canvases and intaglios is invested with visceral vitality. This hue itself constitutes the continuation of a rite to celebrate womanhood.

Rokeya willfully constructs the geography of her art based on the very concept of the union of the body with what is imaginary. Accordingly, her art becomes a conduit of sorts – one that attempts to hold the cosmologies of the real and the imaginary in one single whole. Her most recent series titled “Bodhisattva”, or the singularly important imagery called “An I for Buddha” are iconographies that are invested with the emotive force of religious iconography.

The primacy of the body, love and experience
Rokeya’s art is a way for her to understand the natural existential reality, one which is sensed through the concept of the biocosmic body, as is dictated by the practitioners of Kundalini Yoga. In this natural existential formulation of a metaphysics around the concept of the flesh and consciousness as one, womanhood is recognized in its true form and feel, and is also given primacy over all things social.

In one of her works done around 2004 a female figure remains prostrate in front of a forest – an encounter of definite intent, one that sheds adequate light on how she understands women as an integral part of nature. Woman as a natural existential site holds the key to the world – in both its physical and metaphysical characteristics, this is the central premise of Rokeya’s language.

In the Tantric mode of thinking, there is this fundamental concept of liberation of both the possessed and the possessor, and it is within this frame of such freedom that Rokeya’s pliant, foetus-like women reside. As such, they easily defy all sorts of gravitational pull associated with actual living. Perhaps this is how the eternal is invoked – which is only but a concept of continuation of matter-mind amalgam in one form or another, and which is observed by a non-hierarchical pair of eyes, as if one is a seer, as was Buddha. Perhaps, the works “An I for Buddha” is informed by such self-realization.

Though in the last few years, Rokeya has frequently been throwing her artistic weight behind either her own version of Abstract Expressionism or her signature bio-primitive approach, she is at her best in the latter mode of representation. In her constellation of sensibilities, colour and its fluid application alongside its intensity are the most important currencies. Water and the world that came out of it and is also sustained by it, is a theme that Rokeya goes back to with passion and poise, and she titles her recent apotheosis “Swimming in the Aquarium”. However, it is more through the handling of water-based acrylic that she recreates the sense of the liquid that presides over all living beings on earth, rather than resorting to literal representation. No matter how subjective the title sounds, the works are a meditation on life visualized in a matter/spirit synaesthesia.

At the crossroads of the existential and the artistic acts lies Rokeya’s creative domain. For her the body that nourishes, the mind that is one with it, and art as its essential extension, are universal symbols; they help her form the essential structure of what we may call the entire gamut of the natural world and the human experiences around it. This concept of wholeness provides for the viewers to chance upon an initiatory experience, one that is packed with inspiring aesthetic experiences.







Mustafa Zaman : Artist, Editor, Deparat, an art querterly, Dhaka, Bangladesh

 


 Article

Of Queen’s Inglish, Binglish and Synglish

Harold Rasheed

When I was asked me to contribute a piece in English on ‘anything,… music, art … anything….and oh, I need it quick, about two days ’, it set of a train of thoughts that led me down memory lane, into houses I hadn’t visited for a long time, through rooms long ago locked away.
My father, the late Mr. Ameenur Rasheed Choudhury used to run two newspapers from Sylhet, the Daily Jugabheri, then a Bengali weekly, and now a daily, established in 1934 and the Eastern Herald, an English weekly. Jugabheri still continues to be published but Eastern herald stopped publication in 1970.

When I was two years old I was booked to study at Rugby School, Warwickshire, England, which I entered when I was thirteen years old. To get me prepared for Rugby’s stringent common entrance examination, I was sent to Aitchison College, Lahore, Pakistan and then to Hawkhurst Court, Sussex, England.
So boarding school was a huge part of my early life and of course English was my language. I remember many instances during my stay in these schools where I used to read the dictionary for fun/knowledge, a habit I was taught at Hawkhurst Court by Mr. Davies, our English teacher.
During our O level exams , in 1972 about thirty or more students at Rugby School, took English Language and Literature.
Only two passed English language with A’s that year. One was a boy from Pakistan and the other a boy from Bangladesh. I asked our teacher the reason for this. He said.
“ We people speak colloquial English. You speak proper English.”

Our household help were expected to communicate with me in English even at home, during the few vacations. Believe it. I personally never spoke to my father in any language other than in English. In that sense I am way, way behind, worse than Michael Modhusadhan Dutta. At least he learnt Bengali and wrote in Bengali.
English, Urdu, Latin, French, and German. That was my lot.
It was only this year that I read my first Bengali book. My father’s unfinished auto biography. Being the chairman of the board of editors of a local daily, I figured the least I could do was to learn to read about my father’s life even if it was in Bengali, otherwise I would never find out about him.

I couldn’t even speak Bengali until I met my future wife at the ripe old age of twenty four or so. Just Sylheti and English. Imagine our conversations,

‘ Na- re- go, mind khorio na, ami late asi, kita khormu, happened oi gesay .”
*(No, don’t fret yourself, I’m late, what can I do, it happens )
‘ Darling, mind-ingo disturbing khorio na. Tomar golar bhoice koob fine. Gaan gao.”
*( Darling, don’t’t disturb your mind, your throat’s voice is very good. Keep singing )
‘ Face-or sehrar dikay saiya dekho, tomar fair and lubly lagay na. Tomare naturally hebby nice laagay.”
*( Look at the visage on your face, you don’t need ‘Fair and Lovely’ )
So much for Synglish
Binglish is good too.

“ …Aslam aislo, daeel-er butol ekta niya, phoot koray soondor bhyner gubletay dhaila dilo. Tar poray kisoo ice dhelay dilo. Ami bollam “ Eita kee ? ” O Bollo “On the rocks, cheers!”…accha bhaiaya, rocks na pathor…? ”
*( Aslam came, bought a bottle of phensidyl cough syrup, poured it into a wine goblet and put some ice in. I said, “ What is this” He said “ On the rocks, cheers !...brother, does’nt rocks mean stones…? )
“…Dhoor, bay- akkal ! Koy bar bolsi drugs khelay phugs hoay jai manush. ”
*( Stupid. How many times have I told you if you take drugs you become phugs )

“ Saar, engrezi porlay amar mentalingay distempering hoy. Boojtasen ? Jodi partam saar, my goodness, saar…. I could do the undo, saar, understand ? .. do the undo! …”
*( Sir, I get mentally disturbed when I read English. Undersatand? But if I could , sir, my goodness, sir, …I could do the undo, sir, understand?...do the undo!)

* literal translations wherever possible

Today there are quite a few English weekly magazines which are supplementary to the national dailies and that is a good thing. These papers serve a noble purpose for all types of people who are past the school/university age but need to increase their knowledge of English. One even has a full page on grammar and the usages of English once a week.
Because I run a newspaper that has never been partisan since its inception, I know how hard it is to get advertisements, especially government ones. These are financial arteries for a newspaper. But to give them credit, the quality of English in these newspapers is quite good. The consistency of publication is commendable.
In a country where, probably, not more than one hundred thousand people, and that’s pushing it, make a regular habit of reading an English newspaper, starting yet another one seems an uphill struggle. The pool of English speaking journalists in Bangladesh is not exactly thriving. The people are getting educated but the number of regular English readers is still not growing commensurately enough.

But that’s the beauty of us Bengalis. We are resilient. We tend to struggle against insurmountable odds, and quite often we win.
Take note, your Majesty
Look at Our Bardness Rabindranath Tagore, His Rebelness Nazrul Islam, His Financeness Amritya Sen, His Black Holeness Jagadish Chandra Bose, His Sultaness SM Sultan, His Rajaness Hassan, His Syedness Mujtaba Ali, His Most Excellent Fakirness Lalon, His Celluloidness Satyajit Rai, His Bangabondhuness Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, His Baulness Abdul Karim, His Grameeness Professor Yunus, His Bracness Sir Fazle Hasan Abed… and of course our friend His Prodigalness Michael Modhushodhon Dutta.
All royals.
We are intellectual colonizers.
You only have yourself, your Royal Highnesses, your Bardness Bill Shakespeare, His Nirod Chaudhuryness and their four Beatlenesses headed by Sir Paul.

Since London is the capitol of Sylhet, thus making England a dominion of Bangladesh, it’s quite logical and stands to reason that we are intellectual colonizers.
Other than mosquitoes, traffic jams hartals and ijtemas, very few things are free here in Bangladesh.
And we are also dreamers who dream in first class.
So we dream on. It’s free.
By the way, when was the last time you had free load shedding, Your Majesty ? Oh, and yes, could you be a bit more timely with the rent please, I mean it’s been over three hundred years and fifty years….




Harold Rasheed : Artist, Musician and Teacher
Co Founder : Anandaniketan School, Sylhet
Founder : The Academy of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Dhaka
Chairman : Board of Editors, Daily Jugabheri, Sylhet



 Life Style

Till we meet again…

Wasima Wali

The new year is smiling at me – i know you are…
It was a wonderful feeling to open my ears on the wee hours of the 30th of December, with the tune of Didha…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=896d2hIINWU
This year started with some, new friends, and a few, old friends who are very close to my heart. And over the years, being miles apart, our relationships had strengthened one way or the other.

Shania, my four year old, welcomed 2010 with rewarding excitement, toward, the country, yes, it was her first trip across the world to Bangladesh. Miami to London, London to Doha, Doha to Dhaka. She saw innocence in every angle of Dhaka. With her cold, cough, and not- so -good health, she kept smiling and said, that she wanted to live in Dhaka (especially, after she bonded with her cousin Arman). I could never imagine my American -born girl would ever say things like that. She ran and hugged my “Bubu”, the eldest first cousin/sis of the family without any inhibition. I think she could sense the warmth and the value of it all.
Shania would stare at the starving mom begging for a penny or two and holding her malnourished child. She would return, to the room, and draw a picture for the little boy, hoping to hand it over when she saw him next. I, caught a glare in her eyes, whenever she felt the wave of insecurity. I am glad ,that she is compassionate, and I hope to continue to take her with me, every other year, so, she is able to embrace the inner truth of her mother’s roots- at the same time ,she will better appreciate, her comfort zone, here at home, in the U.S.
Just a glimpse sometimes is not enough. It’s all in the depth of being able to empathize and appreciate the romantic side of the exotic land…
Usually, I called certain people before and after my departure, but this time the phone call I received on my way to the airport in Dhaka to come home was a bit different. As I answered, the voice echoed, “Ki ashlen na je? Daiyaan ke dekhlam na je”? – (“what happened, you never showed up? I didn’t get to see Daiyaan either”?) This young girl, Jeba, helped us, especially Daiyaan, my eldest, look extra pretty every now and then. She would blow dry her hair to smooth and mask her skin with some fair polish so that she glowed! Daiyaan enjoyed the pampering, which cost her less than ten dollars and Jeba admired Daiyaan’s gentle and polite nature. She was calling to let me know that she had a gift for us. I choked. Where else on earth would I find this kind of thoughtfulness from someone who barely had any means to get by her own?
In general people in Bangladesh are very humble, sweet natured and genuine. I am sure this is even true about the Jamaat-e-Islami(the radical Muslim group). They are just horribly misled. Thankfully, i did not feel their existence one way or the other.
As I begin my 2010, back in Florida, on the fourth day of the year, I talked to one person during this entire day. I was craving not only the warmth but the pause of the constant buzzing of the phone made me feel unwanted and less important. It was just a matter of a day. The first twenty four hours at, HOME, was the most difficult re-adjustment period, especially this time around. When we get home we become accustomed to this selfish and self -centered world where, “self”, sure does come first and there is a price tag attached to it. While thinking these thoughts, I am also trying to get used to the quietness by clenching my teeth. I am determined not to keep getting caught in the “Dhaka Blues”.
I turn towards the waves of my Atlantic ocean that patiently awaits- and recap 2009. It was particularly a difficult one for me. It was not only a mentally challenging but also physically strenuous. I could actually relax and absolutely be myself for the first time , when I visited Chicago, that summer. The trip made me realize the essence of relationships and how we tend not to notice the miracles of life. I got a grip on myself and fixed my attire to conclude the year gracefully and with respect. I would like to extend my gratitude toward, my guardian angels for their moral support.
Looking forward to hitting THAT milestone this year. I hope i can maintain the free spirit i contain within. I will try to make 2010 a turning point and focus more on ME. How about every now and then, I take the liberty to talk about Wasima and her inner desires,her mission, her vision and her passion? In this busy world, “me” gets overlooked and when do we get a chance to nourish it? It may be narcissistic yes, but why not? A few moments out of an entire lifetime can be dedicated to a person, can they not? Self- praise sometimes is necessary ! ( and yes, I am smiling).
Dhaka made me happy. And it takes very little. There is always someone there to give one company, even if it’s just to share a drink of water. People called me there during the wee hours just to recap their day. Yes, I may crave the attention but I was always ready to return it in double dosages.
People who know me, are aware that I am a people’s person. Warmth is, my essence and I cannot help but show my emotions. But, here is a twist. I had my palm read at a luncheon and I could not resist what she had to say about my future. She said that I should be careful about trusting people and showing my emotions as people may continuously misunderstand me. Bingo! I thought, I know, but- I would prefer not to change. Rather than suppressing my emotions, I will, try to worry less about what people would think, and I will do as I please without restraining my feelings. I never have intentionally hurt anyone, nor will I, lie to my self about who I really am.
Within the Bangladeshi culture, people show emotions in different ways. Showing affection through food can be one way, although that can be pleasantly dangerous. The yummiest foods are within the Bharta’s (smashed of any items possible). Some things cannot be replicated.
I can still visualize the beautifully decorated table that Tripti displayed!! Thebharta’s at my eldest aunt-Tipsy’s, the squash vegetable curry at my youngest aunt- Tiptip’s , the olive pickles at my aunt-in-law Veena mami’s and the shrimp curry deliciously cooked by my sweet aunt- Leena… their memory still tickles my palate! I really can be shameless while indulging my favorites. Alas! Missed out on the Chittagong-shutki(a dried fish- another delicacy) bharta, at Sabera’s!
2010, I know you are smiling at me…
On the fifth day of the year, as I drive out at six in the morning to get eggs and organic milk for breakfast, I think of Hakim. He is the chauffeur my father arranged for me. He is a wonderful person with great integrity. Hakim’s father recently suffered a heart attack, but he insisted on keeping his word and remarkably kept our schedule. As soon as I arrived back in Florida, I picked up the phone and called to find out how his father was doing. “Madam, he is out of the hospital and being able to walk with a stick”, Hakim said. What a relief it was for me to find that out. But guilty feelings lingered. He shouldn’t have continued his duty after he found out about his father’s illness. As I close my eyes, I say a quick prayer for the family and count my blessings. Before going on my own way again, I also thank God for keeping us all healthy and alive.
I stand here in the middle of my kitchen and watch the day disappear, getting ready to prepare the end -of- the- day meal for the family and I suddenly get the chills . As if in a black and white movie I see my mother-in-law’s fragile moves and the patience she shows for her children. She sat all afternoon on the day we were leaving Dhaka. She was not even worried about having lunch. And finally, when we were ready to have lunch around four p.m., she was not only gracious but she even had the enthusiasm to praise me. She watched me pack and organize and gave me company along the way.
Then we joined a family friend, Iqbal Dada uncle, who had flown all the way from Chittagong, just to spend two hours with us and bid us all farewell. This was just one more gesture of warmth and kindness wrapped with a token of love.
As I stand by my mother-in-law and bend down to touch her feet for her blessings (an Asian practice, that Bangladesh has adopted over the years), I am deeply saddened by our selfishness in having to leave her there, as we are about to re-connect to our world that only was created because of her. She arranged my marriage with her son, and she is the one who always stood beside me. I can relate to her so well. We all are victims of the natural ‘selfishness’ of our surroundings, where the world easily overlooks the softness and the abundance of love. As I touch her sari and close the door of her car, she whispers, “Take care of you”. My voice slightly shakes and I stumble, but then I say, “ You take care of YOU as well”.
We go our own way till we meet again…


Wasima Wali : Poet, writer, now living in Florida.

 

 
 

banglamati@gmail.com 

banglamati@yahoo.com