Do people read poetry and fiction anymore?
Literature is one of the resources that builds a nation’s intellectual fitness.
This is probably why the first national professor of Bangladesh, Abdur Razzaq, used to say: “To judge a nation, go to their market to see what they eat, and go to their library to know what they read.”
Therefore, a matter comes to mind regarding the existence of Bangla literature. Choosing books for reading has been dramatically changed in Bangladesh, where literature is about to lose its earlier flow of growth and heritage.
However, nowadays, a large number of readers have been found who are very away from literature. They are enthusiastically reading books on motivation, freelancing, religion, history, biography, mathematics, science, technology, programming, career guidelines, etc. But, as far as I can see, among the top 50 books of the last few years, I have found only around 10% to be “literature.”
Once, people loved to swim in the ocean of literature with considerable interest and pleasure. Bengali literature is fairly rich. Rabindranath Tagore himself is a complete library. Then there are the three Bandyopadhyays and Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay with whom we can pass our leisure time wonderfully.
Kazi Nazrul Islam, Shamsur Rahman, and Al Mahmud will lead us to a deep sea where anybody can get lost. Humayun Azad, Ahmed Sharif, and Taslima Nasreen will take us to new horizons of thinking.
Reading Aroj Ali, readers can be smart and creative with thought and logic. Hasan Azizul Haque and Akhtaruzzaman Elias will make us feel how simple conversations can be transferred into art.
There are more than a hundred, including Jibanananda Das, Kazi Motaher Hossain, Jashim Uddin, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Syed Ali Ahsan, Farrukh Ahmed, and Sukanta Bhattacharya -- the list is endless.
It’s a mystery to me why people are not reading them as much nowadays. Leaving these classics, people have started reading some young writers who are not only new but also very inexperienced.
Going back, Paradoxical Sajid, Aroj Ali Somipe (Arif Azad), Be Smart with Muhammad (Masood Sharif), Never Stop Learning, Bhallagena, Student Hacks (Ayman Sadiq), Smart English (Farid Ahmed), History of the War of Liberation (Muhammad Zafar Iqbal), Incomplete Autobiography (Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman), and so on were the most popular books in the last few years, but unfortunately, none of them are “literature.”
Probably this is why poet Asad Chowdhury believes that there is no reader of poetry nowadays. He is still writing, but is worried about publishers not wanting to publish his poetry anymore if there are no readers.
Another prominent poet of Bangladesh, Nirmalendu Goon, said with disappointment: “I do not understand how readers are lost. I am still writing poetry, but I do not find readers’ interest in my new poems. It doesn’t mean that I can’t write such good poetry as before, but the readers have turned away from poetry overall!”
Even the famous Zafar Iqbal and Anisul Haque are neglected nowadays. Many readers say that popular books are destroying our Bangla language, as well as our Bangla literature.
It’s true that literary practices of the Bengali language have changed. But this new change looks devastating. What’s happening with the poetry then? Why are the readers going for non-fiction writers only?
These new, young writers are good at advertising their work. They use eye-catching themes and titles. They try to motivate young people by telling them that it’s easy to get success if they read these books.
These writers also have huge followers on social media, and this is the way they get readers and buyers for their books quickly. Experienced and senior writers can’t compete with these young writers as they have specific readers through a market capturing policy.
Nuclear scientist Dr Faizur Rahman Al Siddique is an example. He has been publishing his books for a while but couldn’t manage his readers, as these young, technologically advanced writers have. However, his book Bangalir Joy, Bangalir Berthota (Victory of Bengalis, Failure of Bengalis) got the top publisher through the use of social media at last.
However, there are also ways to get readers of poetry and cultivate literature in our heart. First, young literary writers should come forward. Publishers should encourage bringing novels and poetry to the market.
Newspapers should highlight and advertise literary works. Senior writers should inspire young ones. Educational institutions should have active libraries where “literature” can be read.
Literary festivals and competitions should be organized so that readers can roam around the field of literature. After all, a new push should be given to make this situation better.
Once people loved such works more than anything else they used to read. They loved to get lost in poetry and fiction.
I hope this comes back, and people find pleasure in reading “literature” once more.
Hasan Al-Mahmud was a Fulbright TEA Fellow, Montana State University, USA. He writes on contemporary issues, education, and literature.