The Financial Express

Lit Fest, Ekushey Boi Mela ... and our books

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Every celebration of books, indeed of cultural heritage, is an occasion for joy. Now that the Dhaka Lit Fest has drawn to an end, it is time to reflect on the interactions we in Bangladesh have had with writers coming from abroad, especially in terms of their views on life and the place of literature in how we carry ourselves in a world made increasingly difficult by the vagaries of global politics.

For such dignitaries to have travelled to Dhaka for the Lit Fest was for all of us here in Bangladesh a shot in the arm, given that we were able to have them glimpse the heritage we are heir to as a people. The impressions they carry back home with them are a message from Bengalis that Bangladesh, from the perspective of history and culture, is certainly part of the global scheme of things, that its literature is a significant cog in the wheel of its rise and consolidation as a nation-state.

With the Dhaka Lit Fest over --- and those who organised it are deserving of a plenitude of thanks for the efforts they put into it --- we now await the annual EkusheyBoi Mela next month. The EkusheyBoi Mela has become our metaphor, in effect our definition as a nation established on the strength of our precious Bangla language. The book fair, having constantly expanded over the years and now sprawling over into a considerable area of the historic Suhrawardy Udyan, is today a showcase of our place in the world as a nation proud of itself, for all the right reasons.

As we await the EkusheyBoi Mela with the usual excitement and sense of expectation, it will not be out of place to suggest that such book fairs should gain a wider dimension all over the country in the times ahead. Of course, of late book fairs have been organised in towns away from the nation's capital. That endeavour needs to be not only maintained but also expanded into areas, upazilas for instance, where our fellow citizens in the rural regions (and among them are school and college-going students) are provided with opportunities of savouring the best of literature in our part of the world.

Bengalis have been known for their hold on heritage, which is why in these days of crass materialism society is in enormous need of reinventing itself through influencing people back into reading books. Modern technology, while it has made life easier for all of us everywhere, has also taken many of us away from the joy of reading. Mobile phones have sadly come in where books once happened to be. That is a disappointing reality, one which can only be neutralised through institutional support, governmental as also individual, for local book fairs as well as the establishment of libraries in the rural regions, particularly in schools and colleges.

The Dhaka Lit Fest helped us to come in close contact with some of the celebrated literary and social personalities beyond our frontiers. The EkusheyBoi Mela has for decades offered us some of the best of writings from authors based by and large in Dhaka. But beyond the capital lies an untapped treasure of literary talent in the form of writers and poets who have had little opportunity of reaching out to readers on a national level.

It ought now to be the responsibility of those dedicated to promoting and widening the national cultural landscape to go out in search of such talented individuals and project them before the people of the country.

This talk of book fairs and festivals necessarily brings up the question of how much we are doing or ought to be doing to promote our literary and other works abroad. We have had Bangladesh book fairs organised in such significant places as Kolkata. And in Europe, Britain, Canada and the United States, expatriate Bengalis have on their own projected Bangladesh's literary culture through book fairs.

But such efforts, lacking institutional support, have not gone much ahead. A clutch of publishers from Dhaka have sometimes participated in these fairs, though a more concentrated participation would have added more substance to the shows.

With the Dhaka Lit Fest over and with the EkusheyBoi Mela coming up, thoughts need to be given to a projection, in regular and organised manner, of books written by our authors at book festivals in the West. Again, Bangladesh's diplomatic missions in the West as also in such capitals as Delhi could be tasked with arranging book festivals once or twice a year, the objective being a dissemination of our cultural heritage before the global community.

A particular difficulty with presenting books by Bangladesh's writers to readers abroad relates to the non-availability of such books in English. At individual levels, of course, a few translations of Bengali works have been done. On a larger level, it is yet a desert, given that libraries abroad are unable to keep on their shelves works from Bangladesh because they cannot come by such works in the English language.

The message is therefore loud and clear: as the voice of the people of Bangladesh, the government of Bangladesh should take the lead in organising comprehensive translations of the seminal works which have defined Bengali literary heritage over the decades and especially since the liberation of the country. The role of the government in our lives remains paramount, which is why it is an absolute requirement for it to initiate and propagate our literary achievements before the world.

Bangladesh's reputed scholars could be consulted by the authorities, a body of translators reputed for their command of English could be contracted by the government, specific translation deadlines could be set for the selected works to be readied in English --- and the world informed that our offerings in literature and indeed in other genres of writing are out there for them.

All book fairs replenish the soul with an enormity of reflections on life, of what lies beyond life, of the intellectual richness nations are endowed with.

The Dhaka Lit Fest has given us a newer perspective on creativity. The EkusheyBoi Mela will once again take us on a journey through our cultural landscape.

Beyond these celebrations, we ought to move on --- into the wider world waiting to hear us beyond our frontiers.


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