Authors Abeer Y Hoque and Mohammad Tufael Chowdhury discussed different aspects of diasporic identity at a literary soiree in Dhaka on December 30, 2019.
Moderated by Shazia Omar, author of Like A Diamond in the Sky, the conversation centered around “otherness” that comes with being a Bangladeshi abroad, and how that translates into the authors’ writing. The talk was held at Jatra Biroti.
Abeer, whose second book The Lovers and the Leavers was published by Bengal Lights Books, deals with otherness in her writing, among other issues. Elaborating on this aspect, she said, “It helps you write about something, because you can take different perspectives. I think the outsider perspective is very important for an artist.”
Abeer writes both prose and poetry, as she feels they are both important ways to relate feelings and ideas. She read out a chapter from her memoir Olive Witch that describes her experience as a young girl in sixth grade in Nigeria, and also recited a poem from the same book.
Tufael currently lives in Australia but was born and raised in Britain, and has lived in the USA, India, Indonesia, South Africa and Egypt. From his early life, he has dealt with the feeling of being an outsider, both in England and in Bangladesh. Reading excerpts from his book, he shared that even though he believed in western ideals of freedom, democracy and liberalism, he was never accepted as one of them and therefore, always remained an “other”. His home community did not see him as a proper Bengali either.During the post 9/11 years, like many Muslims living in the “west”, he had also been questioned, detained, interrogated or frisked by security personnel in some of the biggest cities of the world. This made him question what identity really meant. Throughout his career as a consultant, while visiting different parts of the world, he investigated how Muslim communities tried to adjust their relationship with the western world while occupying a “cultural no-man’s-land”. “The hardship of being the other can also be one of life’s hidden privileges,” he said.
Speaking about the event, Shazia said: “This is a great opportunity to hear from Bangladeshis whose narratives have been are formed by experiences all over the world.” Shazia herself grew up in Saudi Arabia and Canada, and studied in the USA and London, before moving to Bangladesh. “Identities are plural and malleable. Each time we write our own narrative, we can reshape it to give it more meaning, to help us heal from past traumas and make sense of our inclinations and proclivities, both at a personal and a national level. This is the power of writing.”
The event ended with a question and answer session where the audience shared their thoughts about culture and diversity amid the rise of the far right all over the world.
Abeer and Shazia’s books are available at Gourmet Bazaar and Jatra, while Tufael’s book may be ordered online from www.unbound.com.