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Dr Numair Atif Chowdhury shortlisted for Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize 2019

  • Published at 03:32 pm September 2nd, 2019
Babu Bangladesh and Dr Numair Atif Chowdhury
Babu Bangladesh is Dr Numair Atif Chowdhury's only novel | Facebook

The other names on the shortlist include Nadia Akbar for Goodbye Freddie Mercury, Roshan Ali for Ib's Endless Search for Satisfaction, journalist Priyanka Dubey for No Nation for Women, and Tony Joseph for Early Indians

The shortlist for the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize was announced today, and it has the name of Bangladeshi author Dr Numair Atif Chowdhury, for his novel Babu Bangladesh. The winner for 2019 will be announced in November.

The other names on the shortlist include Nadia Akbar for Goodbye Freddie Mercury, Roshan Ali for Ib's Endless Search for Satisfaction, journalist Priyanka Dubey for No Nation for Women, and Tony Joseph for Early Indians.

Each of the novels from the shortlist are stories based on real events, and offer a diverse commentary on the South Asian social, and political history.

The jury for the 2019 prize include poet and author Jeet Thayil, journalist Sonia Faleiro, author Prayaag Akbar, noted author Arshia Sattar, and literary giant Ruskin Bond.

Regarding the selection, Arshia Sattar said: "As our democratic processes are brutally demolished, and our voices of dissent are choked off, our public and private bookshelves can stand tall as spaces of resistance. Solidarities can still be created by the books that we write, read, and share. This year's shortlist is a shout-out to those spaces, and solidarities."

Dr Numair Atif Chowdhury's story

Dr Numair Atif Chowdhury tragically passed away on September 9 of last year in a freak accident, shortly after completing the final draft of his debut, and only novel Babu Bangladesh. He was in Tokyo, Japan, to present his paper Anthropological Magical Realism at the International Conference on Language, Literature and Culture. While taking a walk on the banks of Kama-gawa river, he had a slip and fall accident, which rendered him unconscious, and led to his accidental drowning in the river.

Dr Numair had released approximately twenty short-stories in anthologies, magazines, and digests worldwide, and one of his short story was published alongside the works of giants like Salman Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Hanif Kureishi, Anita Desai and Michael Ondaatje. Dr Numair was also a teacher of English Literature at Independent University, Bangladesh. His novel was published posthumously, to widespread critical acclaim.

In an obituary published on Firstpost by Dr Numair's sister Talita, it has been revealed that Babu Bangladesh was conceived by Numair in 2003-04 at the University of Texas in Dallas, where he was completing his doctorate in Literary Studies. The obituary also reveals that Dr Numair had been working on the novel almost every day since its conception to its completion, and had done countless hours of research on the history of Bangladesh, to ensure perfect representation of facts. 

In 2015, Dr Numair felt the book was ready for publication, but upon returning to Bangladesh from the US, he found that the landscape and people of Dhaka city had changed to a great extent, which led him to revisit the manuscript, and begin revisions to incorporate the new changes.

Dr Numair describes Babu Bangladesh as a fictional biography that belonged to the genre of magical realism. The novel narrates the life of the son of two freedom fighters, Babu Abdul Majumdar, while also chronicling the history of Bangladesh since its birth in 1971. The novel is divided into five sections, and charts the birth of its protagonist to his baffling disappearance in 2021, after a vast sum is stolen from the Ministry of Culture, and distributed to impoverished painters, writers, musicians, and artisans, leading to a cultural renaissance. The novel also has an abundance of arcane mythology, archaeogenetics, geomancy, microbiology, and elements of magic realism.

The Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize was established in 2008, and offers Rs2 lakh and a trophy to debut authors from South Asia. Last year, the prize went to Sujatha Gidla for authoring the book Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and The Making of Modern India.

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