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The New Wave

November 20, 2012

Fiction does not attract me, but non-fiction does a lot. Over the past six months, the books I read were all non-fictions. That’s why I had no plan to visit the Hay Festival.

But I changed my mind when I noticed there would be special screening of the film ‘Chittagong’, a film on Chittagong Uprising, and the launching of ‘Beyond the Lines’, an autobiography written by legendary journalist Kuldip Nayar, for which I have been longing for months.

I was very excited that Chittagong, at last, was going to be screened in Dhaka. That was why I was checking the event page of Hay festival on Facebook every now and then.

But surprisingly, the screening of Chittagong had been called off. The organizer pointed the finger at the director’s inability to attend the festival while the director told he already bought tickets for Dhaka but the organizer cancelled the screening.

Protest against the festival broke out on the eve of the event. Like any new initiative, the festival came under intense criticism from the reactionary groups. They were reiterating platitudes like ‘corporatizing the culture’ about the corporate patronage of the event. They also considered the screening of Hindi film Chittagong and inviting Pakistani-origin writers were insult to Bangla Language Movement and Bangla Academy, where the festival was held. But they were just a small group and deliberately made the noise to get media attention.

The negative campaign had little impact over the fest, yet there were few people. In fact, there were more volunteers at Bangla Academy yard than visitors in Friday evening.

Though the screening of Chittagong had been taken off the program schedule,I could not resist the temptation to attend the launching of ‘Beyond the Lines’ for Bangladeshi readers.

Hay Fest

Stalls at Hay Fest

Before attending the program, I visited few stalls, there were not so many, scattered on the Academy yard. Books displayed in the stalls featured mostly the works of invited writers. One interesting observation was that in one stall I saw too many books of Karen Armstrong. That indicates the background and taste of some Bangladeshi Anglophone readers. Books of Karen Armstrong are on display in every book shop of Dhaka. I still remember the difficulties I endured to get a copy of ‘Beyond The Lines’ from local bookshops when it was first published in India.

Daily Star Books, a new initiative of Daily Star, that aims to publish foreign books for local readers at an affordable price, commenced its journey in this festival. Other Bangladeshi publishing houses can follow suit Daily Star’s step. I bought a copy of ‘Beyond the Lines’ from Daily Star stall and started exploring the fest.

There was hardly any visitor on the ground. Dusk was falling. For a while, I had an aura of feeling that the festival was about to be wrapped up for that day. Few minutes later, I discovered a crowd gathered in front of the main stage where leading poets of the country were reciting their poems.

The book launching program took place at the Bengali cultural Mecca of Bangla Academy. As I was struggling to find out the new auditorium, one volunteer showed me the way. The program was scheduled to start at 6 pm , but started 20 minutes later.

Inside the newly built Bangla Academy auditorium, all eyes were on the octogenarian ‘Tintin’ who was sitting at the center-left corner of the stage . On the podium, big shots Dr. Kamal Hossain, Rehman Sobhan along with Professor Mesbah Kamal, Rebecca Haq and Editor Motiur Rahman were also present. Mr. Mahfuz Anam moderated the program. The program went on like an adda, with occasional exchange of pleasantries and jokes.

'Beyond The Lines' Launching Program

‘Beyond The Lines’ Launching Program

The program was enjoyable and I did not regret my decision of going there.

Being close to some leading Indian politicians and a senior journalist, Kuldipji himself witnessed many historical events and he had many secrets to tell his readers. The book is indeed a treasure-trove of South Asia’s little known secrets, some of which need endorsement from other historians/witnesses, and it is worth every taka.

Initially, it was a colossal work of 800 pages. Later, his publisher told him to shorten the autobiography. He had randomly crossed many incidents and made it a 400-page book. He tried to write about himself but, in the end, it became South Asia’s history.

According to Kuldipji, the youth of South Asia are full of potentials, but they are like lamp without oil. This is indeed a problem. I think to last long and to turn their talents into actions, they need food for their minds, they need to learn from the past and they need to come closer to enlightened minds. Hay festival can be a good occasion.

We have been waiting for a new wave movement from Bangladeshi writers who will make our voices heard, be it in fiction or in non-fiction, among Anglophone readers. Festival like Hay is the very beginning of the beginning of that new wave.

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