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‘It is unimaginable how Elias can be translated’

  • Published at 09:06 pm November 9th, 2018
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Afsan Chowdhury, left, Dr Subhoranjan Dasgupta, centre, Imdadul Haq Milon, second from right, and Professor Khaliquzzaman Elias, right, speak at the Dhaka Lit Fest 2018 on November 09, 2018 Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

Panelists discuss the life and work of Akhteruzzaman Elias at Dhaka Lit Fest

Prominent authors at a panel discussion said that AkhteruzzamanElias (1943-1997) was a writer of exceptional profundity and wrote some of the most creative works in Bengali literature. The panelists were speaking at Dhaka Lit Fest on Friday. 

Professor Khaliquzzaman Elias said that Akhteruzzaman Elias was a complete creative person, but unfortunately he died at the zenith of his creativity. He said that even though Elias wrote some poems, his novels were his real poems. “His prose was very poetic. You cannot make anything creative without being poetic. And that is why he was so successful in his creativity,” said Prof Elias. He said that even though Elias’ writing was very descriptive, he used details judicially. Khaliquzzaman Elias is a full time faculty professor of English at North South University and author of several books. 

Imdadul Haq Milon said that the use of language in Elias’ work is so unique that his settings are unimaginable without it. “In Chilekothar Sepai there is a part where characters in a restaurant smash up Ayub Khan’s photo on the wall. The description doesn’t work without the colloquial Old Dhakaiya language he used,” said Milon, who is a writer with over 150 published books and a household name in Bangladesh. He is also the editor of Kaler Kantho and a recipient of the Bangla Academy Award. Milon said that Elias’ language was so innovative that his two novels had two distinct languages.

Dr Subhoranjan Dasgupta said that Chilekothar Sepai has done for Dhaka what Ulysses did for Dublin. “Dhaka is in fact one of the main characters in the novel,” said Dr Dasgupta, who wrote a book on Akhteruzzaman Elias’s work. Explaining why so much detail was necessary in the late author’s writing, Dasgupta said that Elias strove for what TS Elliot called the ‘extinction of personality’. Because of his unique language, Dr Dasgupta thinks, Elias is almost ‘untranslatable’. 

Researcher and fictions writer Afsan Chowdhury said that where Elias’ work stands in the context of world literature is inconsequential for him. “Elias bhai matters for me and that’s all I care about,” he said. Afsan Chowdhury wondered if Elias could have written more had he been less involved in politics. He also related how the iconic author inspired him and he later refused an offer to translate Elias. “Elias bhai liked my English writing. But I could not take up the work of translating him. I wanted to do other things in life,” he said, referring to the difficulty of translating Akhteruzzaman Elias’s work.

Despite leaving a relatively small body of work before his untimely demise, only two novels and twenty-two short stories to his credit, AkhteruzzamanElias is considered one of the foremost fiction writers of Bangladesh. His novel Chilekothar Sepai (1987) achieved iconic status and the title entered popular lexicon.

There panel was moderated by Sharmee Hossain, a Senior Lecturer of English at North South University.