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War stories

The ghost of the 1971 war looms large over Bangladeshi literature,concedes Dhaka-born writer Mahmud Rahman. In fact,most of the stories of his short story compilation...

Written by Premankur Biswas |
March 7, 2010 1:53:18 am

The 1971 war plays a major part in shaping Bangladeshi literature,Mahmud Rahman tells Premankur Biswas

The ghost of the 1971 war looms large over Bangladeshi literature,concedes Dhaka-born writer Mahmud Rahman. In fact,most of the stories of his short story compilation,Killing the Water,launched in Kolkata on Friday,refer to the war in some way or the other.

“One of my stories talks about a General of the war who retires and settles down in America. Another one is about a second-generation refugee in America. We cannot help but talk about the consequences of the war. It is the single-most important event in our history and has shaped the way we are,” says Rahman who is in the city for the launch.

When Rahman was born,Bangladesh was still East Pakistan. It was during his formative years,in the late 1960s,when the nation was in turmoil.

“During the 1971 war I was a refugee in Kolkata. I have lived in US cities of Boston,Detroit and Oakland. So I feel I’m qualified to talk about the diaspora experience,” says Rahman.

His writing life,however,has a humble beginning. It all started when I was 12 when I hammered out,with the help of a jerry-rigged Royal typewriter,six carbon copies of a newspaper and pasted them on the walls of my school in old Dhaka,” smiles Rahman.

In his years abroad,Rahman has worked as a factory worker,data entry operator,community organiser and database support techie.

“The stories in Killing the Water were mostly completed between 1996 and 2008. During part of that time,I completed an MFA in creative writing from Mills College,” he says.

Like other Bangladeshi writers in English,including Shazia Omar and Monica Ali,Rahman too has spent most of his life abroad.

“I hope my stories talk about these experiences in the most potent manner. My stories say something revealing and memorable about the effects of war,migration and displacement,as new lives play out against altered worlds,” says Rahman.

Bangladeshi writing in English as a genre may still be in a nascent stage but Rahman is hopeful. “In the next few years you will hear about a lot more Bangladeshi writers. I see a loot of talented and creative people just raring to go in Dhaka,” he says.

However,isn’t it true that Bangladesh exists primarily as a stereotype in our collective consciousness? “True,this is why it’s our responsibility to debunk the myth. We need to talk about the realities of our country in the most credible manner,” he sums up.

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