Shaheen Akhtar on her upcoming novel and the DLF 2017
Shaheen Akhtar is a Bengali fiction writer based in Dhaka. Her magnum opus, Talash, is a groundbreaking work on the Liberation War in which the story is told from the points of view of women who were tortured and raped in captivity by the occupation army. Her other fictional works include Sakhi Rangamala and Mayur Singhashan.
You are joining the Dhaka Lit Fest this year. Tell us something about the panel you are in?
I am participating in the DLF for the fifth time this year. Earlier I read from my own works, or took part in panel discussions. But this time the discussion will be about ties between the two parts of Bengal. I guess it will look into the relationship between Bangladesh and West Bengal of India. It may focus on aspects of cultural exchange between the two parts of Bengal or aspects of identity following the partition of Bengal in 1947. I think this will be a challenging topic to discuss in a short span of time. The reason I’ll be speaking about this is because I’ve been working on these aspects over the last couple of years for a novel I’m writing.
Would you share with readers what your new novel is about?
My upcoming novel, which will come out in the Ekushey Boi Mela 2018, is set in the 1940s of the last century. That was the decade not only of a world war or the collapse of the British Empire, but also of communal riots with the whole of India and Bengal being divided based on religious identity. The decade was marked by unprecedented bloodshed and displacement. Hundreds of thousands of people had to migrate to a new country, leaving their ancestral homes overnight. Maybe it’s time we took a closer look at partition so that we can have a fuller understanding of its repercussions on our lives.
Tell us something about your experience of the ambience at the DLF on the Bangla Academy grounds?
With literary discussions, bookstalls, snacks corners and ceaseless adda, the DLF creates an international atmosphere at the Bangla Academy premises. Listening to foreign writers is always inspiring for me. Literary journals publish their interviews and discussions, and this makes the whole thing very exciting. However, unlike a film festival, it’s not easy to talk about your works in a literature festival. With the help of subtitle two filmmakers from two different countries can learn about each other’s works, but people who write in their native languages feel at a loss sometimes as, for them, it all depends on whether their works have been translated or not.
So, you think translation of Bengali fiction and poetry is immensely important?
Yes, precisely. The prerequisite for literary exchange and expansion of our literature is translation of Bengali works of fiction and poetry into other languages. And those translations have to be published as well. University Press Limited has been doing it for a long time. The books wing of The Daily Star has also taken some good initiatives. The Dhaka Translation Center and Bengal Lights Books are now playing a key role in translating Bengali literature. If this trend continues, I am very optimistic that Bengali literature will find its deserved place in the international arena.