When I started reading Anabhyaser Dine (Unaccustomed Days), I did not know much about the author but that also meant I was free from any preconceived image about the writer and in no obligation to subscribe to a preconceived notion.
The progress of a nation is now measured by its industries, highways, malls, GDP and a person by the color of his or her collar—white, blue or khaki. But, the attitude of the young people thronging the streets of the capital might very well be a facade. It can be a conscious effort to march with the aspirations of a relatively newly formed nation striving to make a mark in the world by distancing oneself from the agrarian belief of hidden forces of nature being the prime force of life. Most of the times, it lies buried inside the fourth square of the mind, unknown to the individual and also unknown to others. The moment a snake is crushed under the wheels of an automobile on the highway Ehsan starts his myth and symbolic story “Saap ar Hishiser galpo.” But he leaves the space to wheel of time solemnly declaring, “In this world or after this the heaven is towards the west. Where else shall we go?”
Quite a few stories in this book are steeped in traditional oriental outlook towards life, a view quite different from the complex structure of contemporary world literature. The characters mirror the common people of his country ogling at the wife of another, venting suppressed desire while travelling in a public transport. But, at a larger level, they accept challenges of surviving within a dysfunctional system. Nothing affects the underlying equanimity, which comes naturally to them from the easy flowing rivers, the air full of mystic fragrance. One young engineer travels in time to solve the mystery of his family ghost Ichhak (“Ichhak Namer Paribarik Bhoot”). His quest took him to an abandoned sugar mill, where his father, grandfather and great grandfather worked. In the short span of this story, Alat Ehsan recounts the horrors of a man caught in the jaws of a machine crushing sugarcane. But, apart from the dramatic narration the story encapsulated the transition from an agrarian society to industrialized one with accompanying deprivation.
The stories in this book are also testimony of the flux of the young generation to which the writer belongs. The young writer harps on the binary between the world he inherited and the one in his dreams. A man witnesses an incident of rape in a moving bus and inhuman indifference where co-passengers capture the scene in mobile phone cameras and make it viral. The man tries to escape claiming he is blind. But, it haunts him after his daughter goes missing in “Ondho Hoye Jaoar Rat ti.” Alat laments about the degeneration of rural middle class (“Botoljato Bishoy Ashoy”), isolation of left extremist movement from the people in “Rokto Makha Note.”
The long story “Ashar Bosoti” is the signature story of this book. Tajuddin comes back from a gulf country after working there for almost twelve years at a stretch. He finds that the country he had left, the neighbors he had known, his wife and his son, everything, every single memory he preserved so meticulously all these years, are changed beyond recognition. He tries to regain the lost ground, lost youth with whatever he earned in the gulf. He searched for his lost youth hidden in a face cream in a medical store, grocery shop, even a barber’s outlet. No one could recall even the name. Tajuddin represents a large segment of those, who remembers his motherland as they knew it when they left.
Every individual should constantly strive to identify his weakness and strength. Alat has just started his journey of his literary pursuit. His strength lies in the smooth flow of the prose, spontaneous use of dialects and uninhibited narration of complex intra personal communication. A great poet of our time published merely one tenth of poems written by him and discarded the rest as he considered those unfit to be published. When those poems came out after his death, readers were flabbergasted. How could he choose to throw away such pieces of beauty? I am mentioning this just to illustrate that a writer should be detached and ruthless even in respect of his own creation so as not to dilute the quality of writing he has been trying to achieve. Alat Ehasan is running a marathon and he has the potential to reach the summit. It will be easier for him if he takes care of this aspect from the beginning.
Amar Mudi is a writer and translator in Bengali, Hindi and English. Currently, he is the Director of National Monuments Authority, India.