This recent collection of short stories from Bangladesh has been published to celebrate the golden anniversary of the country’s independence. ‘Bangladeshi’ includes ethnicity and citizenship as well as the original language in which the story was written. The 27 stories in this unique compilation serve as a window to the history, society and culture of the nation. The contributors are a mix of senior writers, some of whom have passed away, and younger ones who are making their mark on the Bangladesh literary scene.
Stories about the 1971 war and its aftermath comprise a strong element in the book. The number of women who had been raped by the Pakistani military in 1971 ranges anywhere between 2,00,000 and 4,00,000. Two stories on this theme have been included in this anthology. In Rizia Rahman’s ‘What Price Honour?’, a 19-year-old girl leaps into the fire to save her honour, and manages to survive. Jharna Rahman’s ‘The Poisonous Hibiscus’, another poignant story that portrays the brutality of war, is about a mother’s love-hate relationship with her daughter, born as a result of rape.
Many of the stories in the collection are also about marriage or marital relations, and are largely seen from a woman’s perspective. One of these is ‘Motijan’s Daughters’ by Selina Hossain, one of the country’s foremost women writers. The title story ‘The Demoness’, written by Bangladesh’s national poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam, is about a woman’s fury unleashed when she learns that her husband is getting remarried.
In Purabi Basu’s poem in prose, ‘Radha Will Not Cook Today’, the protagonist suddenly wakes up one morning and decides that she will not cook. ‘The Woman Who Ate Cooking Pots’ is a deeply moving story narrated by the favourite aunty of the author, by Jahanara Noushin, about why the neighbouring house is known as the Bride-Killer House.
In ‘The Make-up Box’ by Shaheen Akhtar, Mallika is unable to bury her younger sister anywhere—no graveyard will allow it, as she was a prostitute. ‘The Girl in Front of the TV Camera’ by Hasnat Abdul Hye is written in the form of a monologue by a young woman. The story set in contemporary times is most topical with respect to the global #MeToo movement. ‘A Stopwatch and 400 Calories’ by Saleha Chowdhury is another modern-day story set in the US about a 23-year-old man who applies for the post of secretary to former Hollywood actress Vivien Leigh.
‘The Final Resting Place’ by Shawkat Ali is a touching story about a man and a woman who befriend one another as they regularly visit the graves of their respective spouses. ‘Father Johannes’ by Shaukat Osman is a portrait of a 70-year-old English priest who settles down in the village of Chhoto Nagpur during World War II. In Syed Shamsul Haq’s ‘Secret Life, Public Death’, a famous rich man publicly disowns his only middle-aged child, which opens up a Pandora’s Box about his dubious past.
Niaz Zaman, who retired as Professor of English in the University of Dhaka, has carefully chosen each of the stories in this comprehensive collection. Previously, she has published novels and short stories as well as edited several anthologies. The rich descriptions in each story paint a truly extraordinary picture of a land and its people.