Prasanta Mridha has written novels, short stories, essays and nonfiction. He has over thirty books to his credit, including Mrityur Aage Mati, Shanyasher Sohochor, Hariye Jaoa Jibika and Akhteruzzaman Elias, Koutuki Krodher Uttap. He is the recipient of the Gemcon Literary Award 2018 for his novel, Dugdugir Ashor. In this conversation with Arts & Letters, he talks about his book and literary influences.
You are perhaps the youngest recipient of the Gemcon Literary Award. So, how do you feel about winning this prestigious award?
Getting an award is a pleasant experience. In 2018 one of my books was selected for the award. I don’t think they considered my age. However, I think my friend Ahmad Mostafa Kamal is the youngest recipient to have won this award for his 2013 novel, Kannaporbo.
People and nature of Bagerhat appear frequently in your fiction. Even in your nonfiction book, Hariye Jaoa Jibika, you dwell heavily on life in Bagerhat. Which aspect of Bagerhat have you sought to portray in Dugdugir Ashor?
Yes, people from Bagerhat and its nature occupy my writing to a great extent. In Hariye Jaoa Jibika (The Lost Professions), I have tapped the experience of my childhood and later years to describe the people from those professions during that period. That’s why the localities of Bagerhat appeared in that book. It was the same for Dugdugir Ashor. If I look back to find a reason behind this, I realize that I know the geography and people of this locality very well. It is indeed easy for me to write about a place that I feel I thoroughly know; perhaps that’s why I write more on Bagerhat. In Dugdugir Ashor I have written about a place and people that came gushing forth out of me, without making me think much about them. A piece of writing primarily begins in one’s mind; however, the geography and the setting take shape during the writing process.
How much of Moslem and the other characters like Jorina, Asgar and Jhilik is taken from your own life experience and how much of them is fictitious?
Even if they exist in real life, the characters in fiction are imaginary. Fiction is an imaginary account. So even if a writer knows the interconnected characters of his/her book, the characters change during the writing process—they get a different dimension. There is no such thing as “directly taken” in writing. A photographer’s work deals with light and darkness, and the reality is a distant thing there. Whatever experiences a writer can incorporate into words, the characters on his/her page are certainly different from real characters. The characters that are mentioned here and even the ones that are not mentioned are all familiar to our generation. We would see them in district courts across the country; we see them today. Perhaps they are not characters of this book, but their professions, in some cases, have remained the same as before.
Are the characters of Dugdugir Ashor part of my experience, or are they imaginary? I have never thought like that before. I have told you a while ago that our generation knows these characters more or less. In that sense they are familiar to us. They are real; they existed and they exist now. They exist right before our eyes, but at the same time, their existence doesn’t count. Things they would sell are now sold by many multinational companies and big firms of the country. Since they are part of a fiction, they are perhaps not present in blood and flesh. Certainly, some changes have been made due to the writer’s capacity or incapacity. However, I realize—with the power of my stuttering tongue and a lazy pen—that I can’t speak or write without having a real experience. So from a distant or a nearby place, I know my characters all the same.
Who are some of your major literary influences?
I think every senior writer, to some extent, influences the junior ones. But I’m asked to reply who influenced me—this is difficult to reply. The influence takes place in many ways. It applies to—I suppose—the influences I have in my small attempts to write fiction. Some literary influences are like the air: you breathe them in and out without being aware of their presence. Yet, I feel the influences of Mahabharata, translated by Kaliprasanna Singha; and Galpaguccha by Rabindranath Tagore. In my writing I was—and I still am—influenced by the writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Manik Bandopadhyay, Tarashankar Bandopadhyay, Jibanananda Das, Syed Waliullah, Samaresh Basu, Akhteruzzaman Elias and many others.
Have your fictional works been translated into English or any other language? What do you think about the current boom of English translations of Bengali fiction and poetry?
Some of my stories have been translated into English, but not in any other language. In Shabnam Nadiya’s translation, two pieces from Hariye Jaoa Jibika were published in Words without Borders. Recently, some of our short story and poetry collections, and novels have been—and are still being—translated into English. This is good news. We hope that our best writing of the past few decades will also be translated into English. At least, the English language readers will get to know that there are some good literary works in our language. Translation is really important in that sense.
What would you like to say to aspiring writers of the country?
I think I don’t qualify for that. We writers are all co-travelers. We want to be inspired by each other. So let us continue to inspire each other. But then, there is one thing I have learned: there is no alternative to hard work.