Anisul Hoque, one of Bangladesh’s celebrated fiction writers, speaks to Dhaka Tribune about Bengali literature and the Dhaka Lit Fest 2017
You have been with the Dhaka Lit Fest since its inception. As it brings its seventh edition to town, what is your personal feeling?
Every festival is a joyous occasion. People want to know about our country when I travel abroad. For limited scope, some people don’t know much about us. Bringing together poets, writers and artistes from different countries, the Dhaka Lit Fest provides an opportunity for them to learn about our country and literature. Similarly, we also have the opportunity to learn about the literature of many other nations. This is really a heartening aspect of the festival.
We know that poets, writers and literary figures play an important role in resolving social or historical crises. Being a hub of literary doyens, do you think the DLF can play a role in addressing the growing number of crises and instability around the world?
You have brought up an important issue. Historically and nationally, we have always relied on cultural movements. Our poets, writers and the overall cultural sector played a huge part in the Language Movement in 1952 and the Liberation War in 1971. We know that in our neighbouring country Myanmar a brutal massacre has been carried out on an ethnic minority group, for which we are providing shelter to around 600,000 Rohingya refugees in a small country like ours. Our government is working on the repatriation process and forming global opinion that will put pressure on Myanmar to stop the persecution of the Rohingyas. The Dhaka Lit Fest can also play a big role in resolving the Rohingya crisis by mobilising global opinion. The organisers of the lit fest as well as our poets and writers should discuss this issue with foreign guests and inform them of the scale its atrocity and the role of our country.
The DLF provides strong platforms for translation of Bengali literature into many different languages. How do you evaluate this? Do you think such an event may widen the horizon of Bengali literature on the world stage?
Bangladeshi literature is really outstanding. Even if our literature doesn’t get translated, there is no reason to think that it has fallen behind. However, it is true that except Rabindranath, works of other writers have not been adequately translated.
But I also believe that when fiction writers come up with quality works of fiction, nothing can stop them from getting international recognition. However, it will be wrong to think that publishing works in English naturally comes with increased quality and wide circulation; we should not decide to write in English based on such hollow assumptions.
There is no doubt that when a reputed publishing house publishes our work in translation, it comes as a significant step. But for that to happen we have to write in Bengali. If the quality of writing is outstanding, it will definitely find skilled translators and make a distinct place in world literature on its own merit.
Are there any aspects relating to the DLF that you’d like to reflect on?
I would like to talk about one aspect. We need to be watchful while taking care of our foreign guests – from hotels to chauffeuring the guests to the programme and back to their rooms.
At the same time, we also need to be watchful that the respect with which we treat our foreign guests is also shown in treating our local Bengali writers, poets and artistes – all writers present at the festival, whether foreign or local – should be treated in the same manner.
I’d like to thank the organisers for making this festival happen and I do hope that the horizon of DLF as a literary hub continues to broaden in future.