One would have expected a much bigger crowd at a programme that saw the launch of two of Kazi Nazrul Islam’s novels in English translation through a rich discussion at Dhaka Club on February 17.
, Nazrul’s most famous novel, has been translated by Niaz Zaman under the title, Love and Death in Krishnanagar
, while Kuhelika has been translated jointly by Niaz Zaman and MA Quayum under the title, The Revolutionary
. The books were published by Nymphea Publication, an enterprise which aims at promoting Bangladesh's rich literary and cultural heritage.
For someone keen on the steady growth of the body of Bangla literature in English translation, the event was exciting for quite a few reasons.
To begin with, all of the discussants who made up the panel are themselves big writers and translators -- Syed Manzoorul Islam, Kaiser Haq, Fakrul Alam and Razia Sultana Khan. It is to the immense contribution of Islam, Haq and Alam that we owe a great deal of the significant progress we've made in the translation of Bangla literary classics. Hearing them speak on the occasion of another translation breakthrough was a real pleasure.
Khilkhil Kazi, Nazrul’s granddaughter, was chief guest at the programme. Expressing her joy at the initiative, she said Nazrul “deserves to be a part of world literature” and “good translation of his work is the only way to introduce him to the world.”
Kazi Nazrul Islam is one of our biggest poets, song-lyricists and music composers. His achievement in prose is no less important. It is very unfortunate that he is one of the most poorly translated writers among his contemporaries. Thanks to the creative collaboration between Niaz Zaman and Karunangshu Barua, the proprietor of Nymphea, all three of Nazrul’s novels are now translated (the translation of Badhonhara
came out in 2012). His poems and songs and essays, which constitute some of his most important literary contributions to Bangla literature, now remain to be translated. It came as a refreshing bit of news when Niaz Zaman, during a short speech at the beginning of the programme, declared that works for translating selections from Nazrul's various genres would soon be underway.
Terming Niaz Zaman one of Bangladesh’s finest translators, Fakrul Alam briefly talked about Nazrul's prose fiction, focusing on Mrityukshudha
. Razia Sultana Khan elaborated on the plot and characterisation of Kuhelika
. Kaiser Haq began by congratulating Niaz Zaman for taking up this grand translation project. He reminded the audience that Zaman’s contribution to Bangladeshi English writing is multifarious: She is a fiction writer, a brilliant essayist, an excellent translator, and also, a publisher who has brought out some of the very important English titles of Bangladeshi writing. He then elaborated on how the neo-liberal face of today’s capitalism is thriving on communalism and widening the rich-poor gap, and how Nazrul addresses these issues in his novels as well as his poetry and songs. Syed Manzoorul Islam reflected on the character of Jahangir in Kuhelika
and stressed that the philosophical debates in the novel, surrounding communalism and revolutionary ideals, are still relevant today. He concluded by saying these new translations would serve as Nazrul’s gateway to an international audience.