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Fakrul Alam: Translator extraordinaire

  • Published at 06:44 pm November 6th, 2018

His contribution to translating the classics of Bengali literature is so substantial that it won’t be an exaggeration to call him the 'translator extraordinaire'

In one of his many interviews published in a national daily, Fakrul Alam spoke of his decision to take up the study of literature. It was, he remarked, a natural outcome of his passion for reading. Had he become a civil servant as he and his peers had originally planned, Bangladesh would have been deprived of a premier translator, essayist and literary editor. Indeed, Fakrul Alam’s body of work stands tall as proof of his literary excellence, both as a littérateur and an academic.  

Just after the Liberation War, Alam joined the Department of English at Dhaka University, and with that began his remarkable academic career. His PhD dissertation, which he completed at the University of British Columbia, was Daniel Defoe: Colonial Propagandist. In  Imperial Entanglements and Literature in English (Writers.ink, 2007), he writes about almost all major post-colonial writers from South Asia, advancing his own post-colonial vision and  debunking many colonial myths. In Rabindranath Tagore and National Identity Formation in Bangladesh: Essays and Reviews (Bangla Academy, 2013), he brings out how Tagore and his songs were integrated into the formation of Bengali identity in the 1960s when people of Bangladesh were fuming against West Pakistan’s dictatorial rule. His important books include Dictionary of Literary Biography: South Asian Writers in English and Bharati Mukherjee.

His contribution to translating the classics of Bengali literature is so substantial that it won’t be an exaggeration to call him the “translator extraordinaire”. His first book of translation was   Jibananda Das: Selected Poems (UPL, 1999), which was widely appreciated and read. His next work of translation was colossal and a big success.  He edited The Essential Tagore in collaboration with Radha Chakravarty which was jointly published by Visva-Bharati University and Harvard University (2011). 

Fakrul Alam’s latest work took up another Bengali classic, Bishad Sindhu, which he has translated as The Ocean of Sorrow. Alam has rightfully remarked that translating a prose narrative requires steady stamina, comparable to that of a long distance runner, for a solitary and mind-numbing journey. In spite of the translator’s initial misgivings, he has engaged with the cultural density and the linguistic complexity of the epic. Alam’s translation of Bishad Sindhu   truly captures the religious myths of Muslims surrounding the grandsons of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).

He’s also translated Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s memoirs The Unfinished Memoirs (UPL,), which has been published in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. 

Currently he’s working on a translation of Tagore’s Gitanjali