William Faulkner once claimed he was a failed poet, and theorized that a writer takes up novel writing after having failed to write poetry and short stories. He considered short stories as ?the most demanding form after poetry?. This hypothesis, however, does not apply to me. I never tried to write poetry except for some stupid doggerel that I had to write as proxy for one of my university friends who had fallen in love with a classmate of his and wanted to show off how well he could write poetry. I also beg to differ with Faulkner on his logic of the pecking order concerning creative writing skills. Why I took up short stories then was quite obvious. As a matter of fact, a strong passion for listening to stories was implanted in me in my childhood days while I was used to being lulled to sleep by ghost and horror stories told by my mother. She had to tell me such a large number of stories throughout the year that she was soon short, and had to improvise to slake my thirst. The typical errors and omissions of her promptly woven stories were sometimes spotted by me, but my interest never flagged.
After I had learnt to read Bengali, my father presented me a brand new copy of the illustrated version of Thakurmar Jhuli. This enormously popular book on Bengali fairy tales gave me a big thrill. I devoured it with a gigantic appetite. I read Thandidir Thale in its wake. It whetted my appetite for more stories. Reading stories became the entire world to me.
During my busy school and college days, the storybooks always would go with my textbooks. By then, I finished reading the first-known Greek story collection? Aesop?s Fables, the collection of Indian animal fables with explicit morals? Panchatantra, the Judeo-Christian Bible Stories, the exciting folk and fairy tales of Arabian Nights, and the dark and violent stories of Grimm?s Fairy Tales. In my university days while I was studying English literature, I discovered a new world of stories. Boccaccio?s bawdy tales of love in Decameron and Chaucer?s ironical stories in The Canterbury Tales opened up whole new vistas for me. Great masters of modern short stories like Gogol, Maupassant, Chekhov, O. Henry, Jack London, Joyce, Kafka, and Hemingway had exerted a tremendous influence on me. Gogol?s ?The Overcoat? Maupassant?s ?The Diamond Necklace?, Chekhov?s ?The Lament?, O. Henry?s ?The Gift of the Magi?, Jack London?s ?To Build a Fire?, Joyce?s Eveline, Kafka?s ?Metamorphosis? and Hemingway?s ?Old Man at the Bridge? are always a marvelous read.
My story-loving passion grew more intense and was bursting to find expression in short fiction. I wrote a story (Amanush) in Bangla, and sent it to a quarterly magazine at Calcutta called Jignasa. Not only was it published, it was also highly appreciated by the learned editor, Sib Narayan Roy who by way of introduction, wrote a few sentences appraising my ability as a storyteller. I felt tempted to stick at writing stories, and brought out my debut Bengali story book entitled Ekaler Rupkatha (Today?s Folktales) in 1997.
Why I chose to write in English is twofold. First, I wanted to reach a much wider readership across the globe and second, I liked to involve myself in the growing trend of what we now call ?Bangladeshi writing in English?, which is in a pitiable state compared to its South Asian counterparts. The agonizingly slow movement of BWE greatly shocks me, and I find no reason as to why our writers are not coming up with creative writing in English in keeping with our expectations. The bulk of our English writing is mainly the post-editorial columns and opinions. The stuff called fiction in English is an endangered species in Bangladesh.
A handful of few fresh talents are, however, treading this path. However, I believe there is a wealth of young talent in Bangladesh who can promote the development of Bangladeshi fiction in English. Apart from our well-known fiction writers like Adib Khan, Monika Ali, Tahmima Anam, Shazia Omar, Mahmud Rahman, Zia Haider Rahman, Neamat Imam, Maria Chaudhuri, and a few others, there is a stream of budding authors trying their hand at English fiction.
As for myself, writing stories is a passion with me. I try to pick the plot of my stories both from the bustling metropolis and the far-flung corners of the country, and paint them in an unprejudiced light. I write my stories in a rather conventional way, and deliberately avoid any offbeat approaches to directly reach my readers. Right this moment, I do not like the idea of experiments on my stories? themes and styles. However, I try to remain a stickler for the correct usage of the Queen?s English, and exploit it with a view to enhancing the aesthetic of my stories. I do not expect others to follow me. They should have their own sweet ways to write. But they should write. Bangladeshi English fiction demands fresh talent.
Dr Rashid Askari writes fiction and columns and teaches English literature at Kushtia Islamic University.
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