Born in 1939, Rizia Rahman is one of Bangladesh's most remarkable women writers writing in Bangla. Her novels include Ghar Bhanga Ghar
, Uttar Purush
, Rokter Akshar
and Bong Theke Bangla.
She received the Bangla Academy Award in 1978. UPL published a translated collection of her short stories, Caged in Paradise and Other Stories in
2010. A translation of her novel Rokter Akshar
, brought out by Bengal Lights Books , will be launched at the Dhaka Lit Fest 2016.
When I approached her for an interview, she agreed to answer the questions over the phone. Here's what followed:
What are you reading now?
Whatever I get close at hand: novel, story, poetry, essay.
Writing anything at the moment?
I’m not writing at the moment.
Tell us about the writers who have influenced you the most?
Rabindranath and many of his contemporaries and successors have influenced me a lot. Then there was this Russian writer Nicolai Gogol whose short story “Overcoat” is still vivid in my memory. Tolstoy’s War and Peace
is another piece of fiction which was a remarkable reading. I hold another book in high esteem and that is Edward Said’s Orientalism
. But to tell you the truth, at this stage in my life I really can’t tell which author influenced me when or if any of them holds sway over me now at all. I think I am influenced only by myself these days.
How would you evaluate Bangla literature as a whole?
I think Bangla is a very rich language for literary expression. Our writers have written quite a few novels which, whatever international standard you impose on them, are great works of fiction. Our achievements in short stories are even more glorious. But English translations of Bangla literature were few and far between. Only recently some solid efforts have been put in. I hope this trend picks up speed.
Before I conclude, I’d like to say something about translation. The act of translation should not go into bad hands, and language skills should not be considered the ultimate mark of a good translation. The translator must know this culture and its distinct modes of expression, and how to render them in English. The culture is very important in translation and that's why I'm sceptic of white Europeans or Americans translating Bangla literature.
How are you feeling about attending the DLF 2016?
Well, I don’t know. Are there going to be only those from the west?
Not at all. There will be writers from Egypt writing in both Arabic and English; there will be one from Uzbekistan, another from Thailand. And a whole lot of Bangladeshi writers writing both in Bangla and English.
Is that so? Well, that sounds interesting. You know what? It makes more sense to me to try to connect to cultures that have more in common with us than those somewhat foreign to us. Do you know how much of our culture has in common with Malaysia or Indonesia? Yet we literally know nothing about the literature of Malaysia. I once translated a famous Malaysian writer into Bangla.
There’s one Malaysian writer attending this year. His name is Eddin Khoo. He is a poet, writer, translator and Journalist.
That sounds like a different lit fest altogether.
Hope you don’t miss it.
Hmm, I won’t.