Shamsuzzaman Khan, Director General of Bangla Academy, is a pre-eminent folklore researcher and essayist. Some of his outstanding books include Mati theke Mahiruha
, Bangabandhur Sathe Alap o Prashangik Kathakata
, Banglar Gono Sangeet
, Adhunik folklore Chinta, Sampratik Folklore Bhabna
, Bangalir Bahutwabadi Lokmanisha
. He has received the Bangla Academy Award and the Ekushey Padak,
among many others.
In this interview with Harun Pasha, conducted in Bangla, Shamsuzzaman Khan discusses many aspects of the folklore tradition in Bangladesh.
Did you always want to be solely a researcher?
Yes. When anybody starts writing, one has to decide whether s/he wants to write stories or novels, or compose poems or carry out research works? I came to the conclusion that I derive joy from research work.
You have been engrossed in the study of folklore for a long period. Is there a story behind this interest?
As I lived in the villages till my adolescence, I had the opportunity to enjoy many forms of indigenous songs and dance dramas like jari gaan, sari gaan, baul gaan, Amina yatra, Gunai yatra, bhawal yatra, Ramleela
among others. This early exposure roused in me an interest for folklore study.
Later, I started working with the Department of Culture at Bangla Academy but the then government was not keen on keeping me there. The Academy had a department named “Folklore” but it had no importance. I was put there to be “dumped.” I thought why not try to do something new from this department. So I began concentrating on modernisation of folklore study. I contacted Ford Foundation and invited Professor Alan Dundes of Indiana University, Henry Glassie, Dr Margaret Ann Mills to our country. Ford Foundation sponsored the entire programme. I brought also Mary Anne Lauri from Finland by sending an invitation to her. She is a world famous folklorist. Thus I stepped in the arena of folklore and right now I am organising International Folklore Summer School each year at Bangla Academy.
But all these unrecorded elements have their social, cultural, psychological and political importance. Only the folklore experts and particularly the psychoanalyst folklore theoretician can make deeper analysis of things like these
How do you evaluate the present trend of folklore study in Bangladesh?
Those who are involved in folklore study in Bangladesh do not know much about the trends in folklore study at the international level. We commenced the study of modern folklore at Bangla Academy in 1985. The condition of West Bengal, in terms of folklore study, is even worse than ours. Eminent personalities like Sudheer Chakraborty, Dr Shakti Nath Jha, Dr Soumen Sen and Sandwip Bandyopadhyay, among others,
have made significant interpretations in the area of folklore study, though, within the old framework. But South India has advanced a lot in this regard. Folklorists like Professor AK Ramanujan and Dr Jawharlal Handoo
have made significant contribution to the field.
You have mentioned in one of your books that “wall writings with political content, secret leaflet, rumour or humour are also examples of new folklore.” How?
Folklore is unrecorded historical elements. A total and comprehensive history can never be written without elements of folklore. We hear rumour about something instantly and then it gets lost. Or think of wall writings! Today it is on the walls and then it disappears. But all these unrecorded elements have their social, cultural, psychological and political importance. Only the folklore experts and particularly the psychoanalyst folklore theoretician can make deeper analysis of things like these.
“Folklore is the crop of nostalgic spirit of the bourgeoisie society”-- why was this saying introduced?
If folklore is some sort of bourgeoisie exercise, then why its study is so strong in China? Why folklore is so strong in Russia? Why Gorkey became interested in it? Why a world renowned scholar like Gramsci was interested in folklore?
You have been the Director General of Bangla Academy since 2009. What are the achievements during this time?
Prior to my joining, there were only two buildings at the Academy. One was the Bardhaman House and the other was the press building. Both buildings were in dilapidated condition. So, in terms of infrastructure, we have named a seminar room after martyred playwright Munier Choudhury. We have built the Abdul Karim Sahitya Bisharad auditorium. Also, we have built the Muhammad Enamul Haque Bhaban where our sale centre, writers’ chit-chat and accommodation for the foreign delegates are provisioned. We have built another auditorium called “Poet Shamsur Rahman Auditorium.” Besides, two 13-storied large buildings have been constructed on a piece of land owned by the Academy in Uttara where our officials and employees will reside.
And in terms of research and publication we have already done a lot. We have published an album on Tagore entitled Tumi Ki Kebali Chobi
. We have been able to complete our voluminous work on the folk culture of all the 64 districts in Bangladesh. We have decided to publish a complete biography of Rabindranath Tagore and scholar Ahmed Rafique is working on it. We have undertaken the task of publishing a five volume History of the Bengali literature
. Three of them have already been published. The rest will come out soon. Our magazine Uttaradhikar
which got almost extinct and was often termed “underground magazine” has been made regular and it is now being applauded as one of the best monthly magazines in Bangla. I admit it is up to the readers to judge quality of these works, but if you only look at the quantity, Bangla Academy has done a lot more in the past six or seven years than in the years before that.
Which problem should be addressed immediately to ensure the continuous progress of the Academy?
Our problem is lack of quality human resources. A number of staff were recruited during 2005-07 period on political grounds and their ideas about literature and culture were not good enough. It is a huge obstacle. We need quality employees with sound educational background. We are, however, trying to bridge the gap.