Masud Rana, the valiant Bangladeshi spy, who travels the world on secret missions, has been attracting readers new and old alike since 1966. And the name -- Masud Rana -- is synonymous to its creator Qazi Anwar Hossain. We cannot talk about one without mentioning the other. However, a recent ruling of Bangladesh Copyright Office awarded rights of 260 Masud Rana books to its ghostwriter Sheikh Abdul Hakim. The decision sparked an unrelenting debate with some even questioning the ethical position of Qazi Anwar Hossain for carrying his names on books written by someone else. Amid the ongoing debate and many unanswered questions, The Daily Star's Golam Mortoza turned to Qazi Anwar Hossain for an exclusive interview, and he happily complied.
The Daily Star (TDS): Questions have been raised that you are not the writer of Masud Rana series, its Sheikh Abdul Hakim. You have carried your name as writer when others actually wrote it for you. Why are you facing such serious allegations after all these years?
Qazi Anwar Hossain (QAH): I have never concealed anything and told many times before, in interviews, I did not write all the books of Masud Rana series. So, there should be no question of ambiguity about that. My younger brother and two sons have written (some) books of the series. A physician from Sylhet also wrote. I told everyone (ghostwriters) that it was not possible for me to write each and every book. I told them I'm outlining the story, and it will be mine.
I always select a story from western books, sometime from seven to eight of them, so that it fits the essence of the Masud Rana series/character. After that I prepare the plot (and sub plots) and then talk to different writers, inviting them to write a story in line with that plot/script. I told them I don't have time to write. So, it was up to the writers to choose which story they'd prefer to write. My brother late MahabubHossin wrote, so did weekly Bichitra editor late Sahadat Chowdhury and Abdul Hakim (and others).
Sahadat created a lot of cover. He also wrote Hello! Sohana. He liked the Sohana character and wrote two parts of Hello! Sohana. The rules we followed were that the writers would prepare a draft story in line with my outlined plot. If I was convinced with that draft story, the mandate was that I would rearrange and fine tune that story before publishing it. If the draft was not up to the desired level, it was sent back for a second draft. (This was the way) everyone including Abdul Hakim wrote in the series.
TDS: Is it a fact that every story of Masud Rana series was built around your created plots? Have some writers including Abdul Hakim written stories for the series out of their own imagination?
QAH: There is no doubt that I have created every plot-story of Masud Rana series, every character is my creation and every event (in a story) was played in line with my direction. Renowned journalist Rahat Khan is a friend of mine. I have created a key character by his name in the Masud Rana series. No ghostwriter has created a character in the series. I have written 14 books of the series.
TDS: So, what prompted you to hire writers for the series?
QAH: When I started writing the series, it became very popular. The characters like Masud Rana and Sohana captured the imagination of readers. The popularity also carried along the demand for more books. Some readers even demanded a new book every month, which was virtually impossible for me to comply with. It was at that time I decided to turn to ghostwriters to quench the growing thirst of readers.
TDS: Can you tell us about the readers' response at that time?
QAH: They used to send letters and there were so many of those that at times our office turned into a heap of mails. That was why we introduced a discussion section for readers at the end of every book we published.
To comply with reader's growing demand, Sahadat Chowdhury wrote five to six books of the series. After that Abdul Hakim wrote a few books. I prepared the plots of all those books and they followed those plots while drafting a story.
TDS:Your statement evokes two pertinent questions. Why the name of the person who wrote was not credited in the book? Why your name was carried alone instead?
QAH: It's not that I'm the only person who have started this trend. Ghostwriting has been an established universal practice for a long time. Hillary Clinton has employed someone to write her autobiography. The name of the person who wrote was not carried in the book. This is the standard practice.
TDS: People generally don't know the name of a ghostwriter. But they know the names of your ghostwriters and many hold you accountable for that. How do you react to it?
QAH: I have never mentioned any name. Sheikh Abdul Hakim and others said I have mentioned names. In an interview with Prothom Alo, Asjadul Kibria mentioned some names and said probably those writers write for Masud Rana series. They (Prothom Alo) assumed that it was my statement. But I told them I'm not willing to mention any name because it might be disrespectful for them. They did the writing for someone else because they needed money.
TDS: Questions have been raised that you have deprived your ghostwriters financially. You did not pay the promised amount as well as royalty to them.
QAH: Consider someone has got Tk 12,000 to 15,000 but he feels he deserved Tk 60,000. He can think like that and I have nothing to do with it. The issue is whether they got the promised amount of money for what they wrote. I have never deprived anyone financially or cheated them. Why did they write if they had felt that they were financially deprived? I have not forced or intimidated anyone to write.
What should be their logic to write for 45 long years if I had not paid them? I have fulfilled my promise of paying onetime honorarium. They have signed and taken the money without any complaint. Those vouchers are still with me. Someone can think I paid them less, can feel they could have been better off if they had got more. You cannot make someone happy with money. They wrote only after accepting my proposal.
A few days before Sahadat Chowdhury died, I rang him and said I owed him some money. I asked him if he would be able to come or I will send somebody at his home with the money. He became surprised and asked me, what money? When I told him that it was his honorarium for writing, he told me he would come because it would also be an opportunity to see each other.
No writer except him (Sheikh Abdul Hakim) has ever complained that I have not paid them their dues.
TDS: Did you sign any contract with writers at that time?
QAH: No. We never signed any written contract, and never thought of doing so nor did they ask for it. It was also the case with Sheikh Abdul Hakim and he never asked for such contract. It has always been considered as gentlemen's agreement.
TDS: Has he ever demanded money from you before submitting a copy right lawsuit?
QAH: No, not like that. When he left Sheba Porkashoni, he told me that his doctor advised him not to walk a distance and that it would not be wise for him to go to his workplace in Segun Bagicha from his residence in Mirpur. He had an open-heart surgery and I paid for his medical expenses. Anyway, when he left, he told me that he would be able to write a book in a month or two. After two months, he sent me a legal notice and threatened to file a defamation suit if I fail to agree to make deal with him. I did not find anything to compromise with him. After a few days, he demanded that I owe him Tk 2.9 crore, showing the calculation of a few books.
TDS: Was that claim meant unpaid royalty?
QAH: It has nothing to do with royalty. I paid them onetime money for their write-ups.
Both Sheikh Abdul Hakim and Sultan Mahmud were preparing to file cases against me. I responded to their lawsuits and categorically said their demands were beyond their rights. Sultan Mahmud backed out.
After that they went to the copyright office from where I was first served with a legal notice and then summoned for hearing in the court. I conveyed through my lawyer that I was physically not in a position to be present for hearing but they insisted that I must appear at the court.
At one stage, the court awarded the rights of six books of Masud Rana series and one of Kuasha series to Sheikh Abdul hakim. The reason behind that was his name was printed in those books' inside pages although my name was in the covers. The writers who have written their own plots in a book, I have carried their names. I have carried his name because he requested me. His logic was that if his name was mentioned in the Masud Rana books, it would help promote the sale of his other by-name books.
I have tried to convince the court that he cannot have the rights this way because the series is mine. He wrote as a ghostwriter.
TDS: Are you aware of any such lawsuit by a ghostwriter in the international arena?
QAH: I'm not aware of such lawsuits anywhere in the world. It would also not happen here had the greed not gotten the better of him.
TDS: The copyright court has awarded the rights of 260 books to Sheikh Abdul Hakim. What will you do now?
QAH: I did not get justice. I have tried to convince the court that Sheikh Abdul Hakim's name was not anywhere in the book. How come he won the rights? I will take the next course of action in line with the law of the country. There are 466 books in the series and 260 of them have been awarded to him, it's unacceptable.
TDS: Can Sheikh Abdul Hakim bring out a new book of Masud Rana series?
QAH: Not at the moment. But he will be able to do so if he finally gets the rights. But if I can prove in the higher court that he is not the creator and writer, he will not get the rights.
TDS: People in the social media have been critical against you for using your name while the books are written by others. They are also questioning your ethical position for that act.
QAH: Ghostwriting has been going on for a long time. I have paid them to write and I don't find it unethical. I never tried to force or intimidate them to write.
TDS: Was there any scope to use his name instead of yours in the books of Masud Rana series?
QAH:Masud Rana series is mine and no one else can have their rights.
TDS: When it actually dawned on you that you can write a book combining the stories of five to six western books.
QAH: After writing four to five books of the series, demand from readers increased manifold and it was virtually impossible for an inexperienced young Bangalee like me to cope with the pressure of writing thriller one after another. So, I decided to take the assistance of western books. The first such book was "Swarnamriga".
TDS: It meant you had to read a lot of books. Form where did you collect all the books at that time?
QAH: Yes, I had to do a lot of reading. I collected most of the books from old book stores.
TDS: You had a very good relationship with Sheikh Abdul Hakim. But it has turned bitter now. How do you react to that?
QAH: I have nothing to say. He has done what he felt was good for him. Now it's time for me to embark on my own journey alone.