Helal is in love with Reshma. He’d met her once and it was love at first sight. He is on his way to the Parliament House, where Reshma would be waiting on the steps in a yellow and red sari. But he has to meander through the chaotic streets of Dhaka in a rickshaw. How he would finally get to meet the love of his life, is the rest of the story. Translated in English by Dhaka-based writer Marzia Rahman, Helal was on his way to meet Reshma is a short story written by Jessore-born award-winning writer Anwara Syed Haq. It is one of 10 stories in The Book of Dhaka (Rs 295, Yoda Press), which documents the different districts, textures and walks of life that the capital city of Bangladesh has to offer, from the poorest to the most privileged. Edited by Delhi-based translator Arunava Sinha, and Dhaka-based editor QP Alam, it was launched in India last month, after being published in the UK and Bangladesh.
“We wanted the city to play the central role in the book and include stories from different periods of time, writers from a wide age group and representation of women writers. Stories are set in various iconic parts of the city like the Parliament building, Quila-i-Kunha, Sadarghat. The book feels like a fictional tour of the city,” said Alam, 35, in a conversation from Dhaka. She has co-edited the book with Sinha and heads Bengal Lights Books and the Dhaka Translation Centre. Sinha conducts a translation workshop at the Dhaka Translation Centre at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB), which is run with the support of the British Centre for Literary Translation and Commonwealth Writers. Through them, the two got in touch with the Manchester-based Comma Press, which wanted a book on the city of Dhaka. “We decided to combine the workshop with the book, and the participants spent six months reading Bangla literature, after which stories were selected and then translated,” said Sinha about the idea and process behind the project. The book is a part of the “Reading the City” series of the Comma Press, run by Ra Page, which includes similar anthologies on the cities of Tokyo, Rio, Gaza, Tbilisi, Khartoum, among others. In Bangladesh, it was published by Bengal Lights Books, also based in ULAB.
While choosing the stories, Sinha decided to pick those that said something about the history and geography of the place. “Not too many parts of the world have been a part of three countries in the course of their lifetime. That sense of history is strong in the city — some of it is marked by antipathy, a lot of anger and anxiety. The Mukti Juddho (Liberation War) is very much a part of people’s lives, and each generation is reliving and experiencing it in a different way and it comes out in the stories,” said Sinha, who has translated 38 Bangla works in English. The known fiction writer Akhteruzzaman Elias’s The Raincoat, award-winning author Wasi Ahmed’s The Widening Gyre, noted writer Syed Manzoorul Islam’s The Weapon, Sudan-based Rashida Sultana’s Mother and Canada-based Salma Bani’s The Path of Porbibi are some of the other stories in
Talking about the challenges faced during the project, Alam said, “Finding women writers was a task. Also, most of the Bangla fiction is set in villages and rural areas. There were limited stories set in the Capital that we could work with.”