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Genuine authors are not to pursue fame

  • Published at 05:30 pm September 3rd, 2016
  • Last updated at 06:44 pm September 10th, 2016
Genuine authors are not to pursue fame

Very recently, Sanatkumar Saha called Mohammad Rafiq one of the two or three most significant living poets in the country. He was discussing Rafiq’s latest book of poetry, Duti Ganthakabya, a collection of two lyrical ballads, in an article published on bdnews24. From Boishakhi Purnima to Dhulor Sangsare ei Mati to Keertinasha to Gaodia to Kopila, Rafiq has carved for himself an untrodden path. When one treads along with him, one sees how sincerely he has placed bricks after bricks to build that path, lining it with trees, drenching it with a vast river in the background. The bricks are taken from Mahasthangarh, so to speak, the trees and rivers from the southern region, and the inspiration for it all from the myths and heritage that are our own. Rafiq has consistently distanced himself from European modernism.

When I engaged him in a talk on the current literary scene, this seasoned poet reflected on a host of issues and subjects. The following is just a glimpse of the two-hour-long talk. The rest of it will come in the later issues of Arts & Letters,

-- Editor, Arts & Letters

I want to begin with the situation of the current literary scene.

It’s on the decline as it is the world over.

Is there anything starkly different about the current scene?

Self-promotion strikes me as a significant difference in the current scene of literature. Young poets and prose writers are too busy promoting themselves in different media platforms. As if their familiarity is what qualifies them to be poets or writers. In the process of all of these activities, you forget to enrich your craft which is basically the ultimate standard, if there is any at all. Writers are to write; they are not to spend any time over promotional activities. It is the responsibility of editors and publishers to reach out to those who are writers of real worth as well as to those who are showing solid promise and thinking anew.

Do you think media can play a role in bringing about a positive change?

Well, there’s no literary magazine in this country that can represent the seasoned and the emerging literary voices of the country.

Just imagine when we had started writing in the 1960s, the time was not favourable at all. The country was reeling from a neo-colonial government. Even then, there were three literary magazines that successfully represented the writers of the time. First, there was Samakal edited by Sikandar Abu Zafar; then there were Kanthaswar edited by Abdullah Abu Sayeed, and Uttarmegh edited by Zillur Rahman Siddiqui and Mustafa Nurul Islam. All three of them maintained very high standards despite the fact that they hardly got any advertisement. In fact, they brought out such excellent magazines digging into their own pockets. When we embarked on the scene, we looked up to those whose poems were published in the pages of Samakal. They set such high standards that whenever any poet was published in any of these magazines, we thought he was of some real worth. That was how I came to know about my own poetic talent. My poem was published when I was not even introduced to them. I’ve heard that Abdullah Abu Sayeed had rejected many poems from mediocre writers and even many from recognised ones when he thought those could not meet the standard of his magazine. The same was true of Sikandar Abu Zafar, and Zillur Rahman Siddiqui and Mustafa Nurul Islam. My poems were published in Samakal and Kanthaswar.

So, that was the scene back then and it was a truly thriving scene that gave birth to the most talented poets of this coutnry. We didn’t even know that someone could write in daily newspapers. It was beyond our knowledge.

But the scene changed after independence as daily newspapers rose to prominence. I still remember that it was at the request of Abul Hasnat, who happens to be a friend, that I first wrote for the Daily Sangbad. So, this is a huge difference and literature pages of daily newspapers have only increased with time. At present, I think there are many literary editors at these dailies who consider themselves as dons in the field, as if the whole field of literature is in their control.

So, this is a crisis of the present time.

Now Kali O Kalam seems to be the only literary magazine that is well accepted among both readers and writers and there are some quality little magazines in circulation as well.

No, Kali O Kalam is not that kind of literary magazine that actually represents the writers of the time. Of course it is a good one. But then, it is brought out by an organisation which is commercial in nature. By literary magazine I mean that particular kind which is an initiative by a group of writers or which is brought out by one writer who in turn is associated with a whole lot of writers and which has a literary goal to achieve. As for the little magazines, they are supposed to be more than just magazines. Little magazine is a movement and it gives birth to new ideas in literature. Now, can you tell me of any magazine or little magazine that has come with an original idea or any new aesthetic goal or innovation? So, actually there are no differences between the pieces published in the dailies and those published in the little or full-fledged magazines.

Can you tell me of any magazine or page that has gone anywhere even remotely close to Samakal or Kantaswar in terms of representation and committed readership?

So, the bottom line is writers are supposed to write and not pursue fame.

Like Jibanananda Das? He had published only a little over 150 poems during his lifetime and was discovered later.

In this age of self-promotion, genuine writers will have to wait even more for recognition. In the literary world, fame comes later. There is actually no easy or ready way to fame. You have to prove your worth and fame comes only after that. Proving your worth to your people and to the whole world takes decades, sometimes even more than that.

There’s this poet who is now regarded by many world famous critics and poets as the most talented and genuine poet of the 20th century. His name is Ceasare Vallejo. He was a peruvian poet not well known to his countrymen, died in another country, and had only three volumes of poetry to his credit during his lifetime. Thomas Mertin, the American critic, has said after Dante Vallejo is the greatest humanist poet in the western hemisphere. Mertin is a Catholic priest and poet while Vallejo was a firm communist to the last day of his life. Vallejo and Neruda were good friends and both lived in Europe for the better part of their lives. But it is noteworthy that Vallejo was a nonentity compared to Neruda’s fame when both of them were alive. But things are beginning to change now and Vallejo is getting as much recognition as Neruda has. Who knows may be one day Vallejo will be considered the bigger of the two?

Martin Seymour-Smith, a British critic, has said the greatest 20th century prose writer is Hose Maria Arguedas, a Peruvian novelist. He was an extraordinary writer. He killed himself in public, protesting the Peruvian government’s torture on indigenous peoples. The reason why he was not known during his time was that he wrote in a language which is a mix of Spanish and a loacal language.

There are many excellent writers in Latin America who write in a language that stands somewhere between Spanish and a local dialect. This is why their works cannot be translated and they remain unknown to the rest of the world.

Who are the writers in Bangla literature that have got recognition after their times?

You have already mentioned one poet. Then there is Manik Bandyopadhyay and many others. In fact, most of our great authors did not get recognition in their lifetime. Our greatest author, Rabindranath Tagore, do you think he was as celebrated when alive as he is now? A lot of writers rallied against him consistently; some were always busy slandering him.

So there is no ready way to fame. Let me explain. How do you know a genuine author? He is the genuine author who can grasp and pull out the underlying meaning and spirit of his/her language and culture. So, what do you think everyone will do if a genuine author like that emerges. Do you think everyone will celebrate his talent. No. They will rather drive him away.

I think if Tagore were born in the present time, he would have ended up killing himself. Let us not forget when Tagore, Nazrul and Jibanananda were writing, that was the golden days of Bangla literature. The Bangalee middle class was at the height of self-discovery and enlightenment. That enlightened class could not receive most of our great authors. If that is so, then imagine the situation now. The middle class now is weaker, culturally deprived and do not have a strong sense of heritage. So, how is a genuine author to be received by this lot? The answer is obvious.