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The Bangladeshi renaissance is here
ADITYA MANI JHA  21st Feb 2015

Farah Ghuznavi.

Recently, when I was re-reading Bruce King's work on Indian writing in English, it struck me that the making of a literary culture can be, even under favourable circumstances, an unpredictable and wholly arbitrary process. In his latest book Rewriting India, King looks at how a generation of Indian poets — Dom Moraes, Nissim Ezekiel and Arun Kolatkar among them — ended up having a major influence on the next generation of Indian novelists. The narrative around this kind of an "origin story" is familiar to bookworms: a group of precocious young writers rallying around an old hand, finding their own voices in the process. But for such a thing to happen on a nationwide scale there must be a solid core of experienced, accomplished writers to look up to. And a profusion of such writers will, inevitably, mark a literary renaissance in the country's history.

Unless I'm very much mistake, Bangladesh is smack in the middle of its very own revolution. Neamat Imam's The Black Coat and Ghalib Islam's Fire in the Unnameable Country are both recent novels by Bangladeshi authors: these are two very different books; both critically acclaimed, both, in my opinion, world-class. Zia Haider Rahman is technically a British writer, but hey, we Indians are never shy when it comes to picking Rushdie on our team. Recently, I came across a Zubaan anthology of women's writing from Bangladesh. Because I had read both Imam and Islam not too long ago, I was not surprised at all to discover that some of the stories in that book — Lifelines: New Writing From Bangladesh — were similarly top-class.

Between Ghuznavi, Islam, Imam, Rahman, Maria Chaudhuri and others, Bangladesh now possesses a bunch that has the potential to be a “golden generation”.

Lifelines also made me keep an eye out for the fictions of its editor, Farah Ghuznavi. I found Fragments of Riversong, her collection of short stories, to be a versatile book rooted to a sense of Bangladeshi street culture, and yet miscellaneous enough to explore several genres, styles and narrative voices.

The opening story Getting There was perhaps my favourite of the lot. It is a sensitively told story, one familiar, I dare say, to a lot of women from the subcontinent: a talented, self-taught girl (Laila) and a domineering father who forces her to give up her passion (art, in this case). Where Ghuznavi excels is the way the thwarted young woman reacts to her fate: there is little melodrama here, and one could argue that this is the way most people deal with situations like these; with perseverance and the kind of quiet courage that does not make for the flashiest headlines but is the stuff of legend nevertheless.

There's also the charming Old Delhi, New Tricks where Ghuznavi reinforces an important lesson: if you are rusty in a language, try cursing in it; linguistic relief aside, it opens up your pipes as well. Just One of the Gang is a thoughtful take on teenage cliques. The Assessment, surprisingly, is a science fiction story with an O. Henry-esque twist ending. The Silver Lining is, on the surface, a story about the friendship between kindergarteners, but it works just as well when read as an allegory.

Between Ghuznavi, Islam, Imam, Rahman, Maria Chaudhuri and others, Bangladesh now possesses a bunch that has the potential to be a "golden generation"; may their tribe increase.

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