ADVERTISEMENT
Go back to
Home » My Kolkata » Events » Apeejay Bangla Sahitya Utsav uplifts the relevance of Bengali literature and its future

Bengali literature

Apeejay Bangla Sahitya Utsav uplifts the relevance of Bengali literature and its future

Science fiction shows us enormous possibilities, of dark or light,” said author Debojyoti Bhattacharya while addressing a panel discussion, which was a part of the ninth edition of Apeejay Bangla Sahitya Utsav

Debanjoli Nandi | Published 05.12.23, 04:54 AM
The final stretch of Apeejay Bangla Sahitya Utsav 2023 got off to a fun start for book lovers as they engaged in a word game

The final stretch of Apeejay Bangla Sahitya Utsav 2023 got off to a fun start for book lovers as they engaged in a word game

Pictures: Shubhankar Laha and Oxford Bookstore

Science fiction shows us enormous possibilities, of dark or light,” said author Debojyoti Bhattacharya while addressing a panel discussion, which was a part of the ninth edition of Apeejay Bangla Sahitya Utsav. Of course, a lot more was discussed during the programme that unfolded between November 24 and 26. There were panellists of repute as back-to-back discussions explored the theme of feminist writing, science fiction, literature from Bangladesh and much more.

(L-r) Anushtup Seth, Goutam Mondal and Debojyoti Bhattacharya at Apeejay Bangla Sahitya Utsav 2023

(L-r) Anushtup Seth, Goutam Mondal and Debojyoti Bhattacharya at Apeejay Bangla Sahitya Utsav 2023

The panel discussion around science fiction started with Dip Ghosh, the founder of Kalpabiswa, a Bengali sci-fi e-magazine, sending out a few thoughts potent enough to make Oxford Bookstore, on Park Street, buzz. “Bengali science fiction set off with a lot of translation work, including the works of Jules Verne and then it grew organically, holding the hands of Hirendra Kumar Roy and Premendra Mitra. During the ’60s, Adrish Bardhan, Satyajit Ray, Dilip Roychowdhury, and Premendra Mitra created a science magazine called Aschorjo.”

ADVERTISEMENT

What role does science fiction play in our society?

Influenced by contemporary science fiction from the West, authors/contributors began offering mature science fiction. The legacy was carried forward by Fantastic, an American fantasy and science fiction magazine. “The ’80s saw these magazines close down and science fiction survived through children’s magazines. Writers and translators started writing science fiction for kids’ magazines. There was a visible aversion to this genre of literature by big editors and publishers. This continued for 20-30 years. Now, there is a much-needed change.”

Where does Bengali science fiction stand today? Addressing the issue in the context of children’s books, Debojyoti Bhattacharya said: “The period following the ’60s witnessed the Emergency, Naxal movement and the formation of Bangladesh. The three events were like a blow to the spine of the Bengali community.” He went on to suggest that there was resistance to change. “The biggest example is the anti-computer protests that Bengal saw back in the day. What role does science fiction play in our society? Science fiction creates a model for the future; it shows us enormous possibilities, of dark or light. And somewhere science is linked with some layers of fear as far as incorporating science fiction in literature for adults is concerned. To put it into perspective, right now we are concerned with AI and its adverse effects. And this fear, triggered by science fiction, in some way, translates into rejection. The consequence: Many writers are forced to work in disguise. They take a roundabout route to reach the masses. They target the actual readers of young-adult fiction and enjoy visibility through their work published in magazines like Anandamela, Sandesh and Kishore Bharati.”

Author Goutam Mondal spoke about the need for more dedicated shows/stories on science fiction, drawing reference to Professor Shonku and Ghanada, who have had an influence on several generations. He said: “We need more publications in Bengal to come forward and come up with dedicated science fiction series. The ones that are being written now deviate from what we have grown up on... the imagination, the thought process that formed the base of science fiction then is missing now. I don’t think many of these can even be called proper science fiction, especially in the children’s section. That’s not to say that writers today will base their work on technology from back then. That would be off-putting for new-age readers. We just need to have more mature writing, like the authors had back then. The West has an impressive culture around science fiction for kids.”

(L-r) Saikat Mukhopadhyay, Tamal Bandyopadhyay, Himadrikishore Dasgupta and Raja Bhattacharjeet at Apeejay Bangla Sahitya Utsav 2023

(L-r) Saikat Mukhopadhyay, Tamal Bandyopadhyay, Himadrikishore Dasgupta and Raja Bhattacharjeet at Apeejay Bangla Sahitya Utsav 2023

Author Anushtup Sett highlighted the role of social media. She said: “The reactions we get on Facebook are not reflective of what the actual responses could be. There is a vast world beyond Facebook. Today’s kids live by technology, the phone and the Internet. When a science fiction novel gives them a peek into future possibilities, it becomes relatable because they are already so tech-savvy. My experience tells me kids still love this genre, especially when combined with action and thriller. But yes, at times, authors do not get to hear from these actual readers because many of them may not be using social media.”

As the conversation veered towards the quality of science fiction pieces being created today, Bhattacharya brought the spotlight back on the mainstream-versus-sci-fi debate. He said: “Some quality work is being created but somewhere the battle is to make this genre at par with mainstream literature. For that, we need to have more authors and readers.”

Ghosh spoke about how science fiction has become mainstream literature in China and how that has influenced the country’s economic progress. Meanwhile, Bhattacharya stressed that citing fears that scientific advancements are a bane to one’s livelihood needs to stop in mainstream discourses. The session also acknowledged the need for more sci-fi story-reading sessions in educational institutes and bookstores to shape young minds.

‘Why shall I hold back and not let emotions flow?’

Author Samragnee Bandyopadhyay moderated a session on why it is important to separate feminism from women’s writing. She was joined by psychologist Anuttama Banerjee, who addressed what feminist writing is about: “Feminist writing does not intend to start a war between genders per se. This is why the terms naaribad and purushbaad are pretty problematic and end up creating an ambiguity around the concept of feminism itself. The war is against patriarchy, which is again not necessarily men. It’s against the concept. Feminism relies on collective conscience, which makes us question patriarchy, the system that fosters patriarchy and gender discrimination that hurts the person being disrespected.”

Dissecting the many facets of writing, she said: “Emotions reflecting in the writing should be separated from the author’s gender identity. When I write columns on psychology, I write from the perspective of a psychologist, not as a woman psychologist. Many of my love poems talk about surrendering, which is construed negatively by my friends. They expect me to do better in today’s age. But if my experience is not so fragile and has a strong foundation to hold up such writing, why shall I hold back and not let emotions flow? I also believe a man can be vulnerable in love.”

Changing marketing dynamics

Moderated by author Saikat Mukhopadhyay, the next panel discussion, on the topic ‘Are mythological, historical and biographical writings an escape from the harsh realities of society?’, featured authors Himadri Kishore Dasgupta, Raja Bhattacharjee and Tamal Bandyopadhyay. Answering a question on why contemporary Bengali authors are inclined towards social commentary that dates back as far as 1,500 years, Bandyopadhyay said: “The politics of denial in society is the source of these writings. As for mythic fiction, I feel somewhere the main text is being manoeuvred or negotiated.”

Do aggressive marketing of well-known authors at the national level in the mythological fiction genre or reinterpretation of mythology influence emerging writers? Bandyopadhyay said: “I think this kind of literature stems from the sheer love of writing and retelling stories from the author’s perspective, without having to deviate from the main text and conveying a message to the society, all in a good sense.”

What brings home the bacon for an author who writes to eke out a living? Dasgupta said: “Market dynamics keep changing and are unpredictable. Political or social novels or thrillers, one cannot fathom which genre will trend when. It is best to toe the editor’s line. I have always adhered to what I have been specifically told to write.”

Love and passion for Bangladesh

The panel ‘Future of literature from Bangladesh’ had panellists Sadat Hossain, an author from Bangladesh, and eminent writer Amar Mitra join publisher Subhankar Dey, who moderated the session. Mitra, drawing attention to the vacuum in the literary space left by star writers like Hasan Azizul Huq, Shahidul Zahir and Shawkat Ali, said: “The Liberation war has enriched Bangladeshi writing. Some great writers have departed but a promising young generation of novelists has arrived. We have one of them here with us today (referring to Sadat). We have seen the craze for his books at book fairs. Then there is Shaheen Akhtar, whose Talash, written with the Bangladesh Liberation War as the backdrop, is one of the best books I have read on the war. Selina Hussain is still active. Prasanta Mridha is yet another promising novelist. Currently, a lot of translation work is happening in Bangladesh, a culture still not so prevalent in West Bengal. The people of Bangladesh have an unwavering love for their language and they embrace it even more when they set foot in a foreign country. We can make an example out of Kuloda Roy who lives in New York now and has not stopped contributing to Anusthup magazine every Pujo. His writing has so much love and passion for Bangladesh.”

(L-r) Debasis Mukhopadhyay, Anjelika Bhattacharya and Prasadranjan Ray at Apeejay Bangla Sahitya Utsav 2023

(L-r) Debasis Mukhopadhyay, Anjelika Bhattacharya and Prasadranjan Ray at Apeejay Bangla Sahitya Utsav 2023

Hossain threw light on how the barrier between readers and writers is getting blurred in Bangladesh. “Technological development is taking the country through a transition. The young generation is leveraging it, enabling new authors to increase their reach. The prevalent reading culture needs to be maintained in days to come.” He also touched on how Partition has had a stupendous influence on writing in West Bengal while the Liberation War has influenced writers on the other side of the border.

Author Anjelika Bhattacharya moderated a discussion on 100 years of Sukumar Ray’s Abol Tabol, with retired IAS officer Prasad Ranjan Roy and author Debasis Mukhopadhyay sharing their views on why Ray’s book still appeals to Bengali audiences, cutting across generations.

Last updated on 05.12.23, 04:56 AM
Share:
ADVERTISEMENT

More from My Kolkata