Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests





Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Two Older Short Stories by Authors from Bangladesh

"The Bait" by Narayan Gangopadhyay-নারায়ণ গঙ্গোপাধ্যায়-(1958, 6 pages)
"Boligarto" by Roquia Sakawat Hussain (aka Begum Rokeyo)-বেগম রোকেয়া (1920, 5 pages)


Two Older Stories from Bangladesh
A Passage to The British Raj


Bangladesh became an independent country in 1971 after a terrible conflict with West Pakistan.    Prior to 1947 both counties were under the rule of the British Raj as part of the Crown colony of India.   One of the stories I will post on today, "Boligarto",  is a colonial era short story, the other a story from the time when Bangladesh was part of a Pakistan.    The human costs of the 1971 war for the Independence of Bangladesh was, in large part,  though not entirely, a long term consequence of the era of the British Raj.

"The Bait" by Narayan Gangopadhyay (1918 to 1970-Dinajpur,Bangladesh)
opens with an ordinary man getting a parcel in the mail from a Maharajah (the ruler of a princely estate-a semi-sovereign political entity who ruled over his people but had no power to conduct out of his territory relationships other than as directed by the British-most such rulers accepted great personal wealth in exchange for total subservience to the Raj) with some fancy slippers inside as a gift for him.   The man recalls that eight months ago a poem he had written had pleased the Maharajah and he had been invited to the man's opulent estate.   While there he was amazed by the great wealth of art and exquisite furniture on display in the man's palace.   He is especially nearly overwhelmed by the wonderful food.   At first he is in awe of the ruler and sees him as such a great man he is deeply honored he even speaks to him and is completely dumbfounded when the man treats him almost as a friend.   Then he sees the man sometimes drinks heavily (which is against the religious strictures of both men), he sees the men has all sorts of guns and expensive swords on display, and in the back of his mind he realizes his new found "friend" can kill him with impunity should he annoy him.   Still he goes on and on about  how wonderful the food is and how he loves it so much.   ("The Bait" was first published in a period in which millions of South Asians were near or actually starving to death.)    The Bait it the story metaphorically would then be the trapping of the people of Bangladesh by their rulers control of the food supply.   In the starkest of terms, they had to submit or starve.   In actual story line terms (spoiler alert) the Maharajah ties up a local boy (one of many who come to his estate every day looking for food scraps from his kitchen) and uses him as bait to attract a tiger so he can shoot him.   The man in the story never really understands he is little more than an animal to the Maharajah and the British.   

Narayan Gangopadhyay was a college professor with a PhD from the University of Calcutta.    His field of research was The Short Story.   He wrote many novels, essays, dramas, short stories and children's books.

"Boligarto" by Roquia Sakawat Hussain (she wrote some of her stories under the name Begum Rokeyo-1880 to 1932-Rangpur, Bangladesh) is one of the very first short stories by an Islamic woman from what is now Bangladesh that can be seen as in defense of the rights of women.    She was married at 16 (normal at the time) through an arranged marriage.    Her husband encouraged her to continue reading in English and Bengali and urged her to begin writing in Bengali (even though he was an Urdu speaker by birth).   After his death she started a school for girls which still exists today.    In her essays and other writings she suggested that it was the ultra-conservative Islamic policies of the rulers that served at the pleasure of the British Raj that caused the Muslim portions of South Asian to lag behind other areas in development.   


"Boligarto"   (a region of Bangladesh)  is told in the first person by a young woman.    As the story opens she is sitting on the veranda of her house when a friend of hers approaches the house.    The woman is very active in the Congress Party and is traveling spreading the use of the spinning wheel.   This identifies the woman as an advocate of Independence for India and as  standing up to the monopoly of the British Raj on cloth.   The woman tells her is OK for them to go to Boligarto as one of her cousins is the local ruler there.   The only way the British could rule a huge territory such as India  (especially one in which they shared in most cases no common language with their subjects) was through local puppet rulers.     The fun of this story is seeing all of the near crazy goings on at the house of the Khan.   For example one day the woman of the family had asked to go on a car ride through the town.   The Khan reluctantly agreed but then he put a giant black cloth over the car with holes just for the driver, so no one could see the women, Of course they can see nothing also.   When the women complain, he tells them they are shamefully wanting to go against the teaching of their religion.    The Khan acts as a money lender, also against their religion.    He justifies charging a very high rate of interest by saying he is risking damnation in his efforts to help his people and this entitles him to charge a high rate.


Kals of At Pemberly-Life Between Pages has recently begun a very interesting project,  A Passage to the Raj which will focus on literature from and about India circa 1858 to 1947.   My now life time project on the South Asian Short story will inevitability touch a lot on this era.   We have decided to, where applicable,  cross link our projects.    I know that my project will take me into all sorts of totally new to me places.   Just the history of the era and places is delightfully complicated and intricate.    Both of the stories I posted on today deal directly with issues related to how the British controlled South Asia through puppet rulers who were willing to act as slave masters for the British in exchange for personal wealth and power.   I have noticed a fascination with the trappings of wealth in the stories I have read.    Kals blog has a lot of good information on Indian Literature.   I look forward to learning from her posts and hope this will be a long term collaboration.   I have in the past participated in her event, Tagore Thursday.   Anyone who wants to link up to our project is very welcome to join in.    Kals has historical background information in her introductory post.   


"Boligarto"  can be read HERE

"The Bait"  can be read HERE


Mel u

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