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Rahat Khan: Living between fiction and journalism

  • Published at 08:09 am November 19th, 2020
Rahat Khan
Portrait: Jahid Jamil


Journalist and creative writer Rahat Khan can be introduced in both ways—a journalist who wrote fiction or a novelist who happened to be a journalist. His journalistic career and literary pursuit ran parallel for some time. But soon his profession got the better of him to the point that one could complain his literary venture was relegated to the sidelines. Yet he has around 40 brilliant books to his credit, which speak of his commitment and contribution to Bangladeshi literature. 

With his passing, Bangladesh lost one of its fictional pioneers who had devised a distinct style in prose fiction. Rahat died on August 28, 2020 at the age of 79. He had been suffering from heart disease, diabetes and various old-age complications. 

He was born on December 19, 1940, in Tarail’s Purba Jawar village under Kishoreganj district. He earned his MA from the department of Bangla Language and Literature at the University of Dhaka in 1961. He began his career in a jute purchase and insurance company. The next several years he taught Bangla at various colleges, including Jagannath College in Dhaka.

In 1969, Rahat joined the Daily Sangbad. Later he joined the Daily Ittefaq as assistant editor. He spent over four decades at the paper, and eventually became its acting editor. After leaving Ittefaq, Khan acted as an advisory editor of Daily Bartoman and served on the board of directors of the national news agency, Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS). In March 2016, he was appointed as the chairman of the board of the BSS. Most recently, he was the editor of the Daily Protidin.

Khan started writing at an early age. In 1967 he debuted with a collection of juvenile stories, entitled Dilur Golpo (Stories of Dilu), which became hugely popular among teenage readers. In 1972 came out his short story collection Onischito Lokaloy (Uncertain Human Habitation) for which he received the Bangla Academy Literary Award in the following year. His first novel Omol Dhobol Chakri (Milk-White Service) was published in 1982. His noteworthy works include Ontohin Jatra (The Eternal Journey), Bhalo Monder Taka (Money for Good and Evil), Kolahol (Noise), Apel Songbad (News of the Apple) Chayadompoti (A Shadow Couple) and Hey Onanter Pakhi (O, Bird of Infinity). 

The seventies were a turbulent time in the newly independent country. There was the joy of victory and in sharp contrast, there also was the silent destruction of values, and gradual turn towards decay in society. Rahat Khan became an honest and candid narrator of that time. In his fiction, the crises of Bangladeshi middle class society, their misery, deprivation and almost every aspect of their existence have been depicted convincingly. His writings show how the village is falling apart and the mechanical city is massively growing. They depict the lifestyle and philosophy of the urban people, the glaring division between the upper and the lower classes in the city. The themes of the Language Movement of 1952 and the Liberation War of 1971 also recur in his works. Unlike many of his contemporary writers, he deals with issues of physical intimacies and sex openly. Most of his characters seem to believe that the origin of love is centered around the body and the journey of love is also towards the body.

The significance of Khan’s works lies mostly in their prose. It is casual, terse and smart; it is also frank and conversational, which was quite new back when he ventured into writing. His prose embodies a distinct Bangladeshi style in choice of words, syntax and tone. 

Rahat Khan was the executive general secretary of the first international literary conference held in Bangladesh in 1974. He remained a prominent writer for the next several years but then gradually faded from the literary scene due to his engagement in journalism. 

He received the Ekushey Padak in 1996.

Rifat Anjum Pia is Staff Writer, Arts & Letters.