Photo: Dhaka Tribune

Spreading Bangla literature across the world

She dreams of this every year. Our prime minister, the prime minister of Bangladesh, while inaugurating Ekushey Boi Mela 2020, has, once again, hoped that we will spread our language and literature (especially literature) across the world.
She suggested that Bangla literary works should be translated into various languages for a global audience.
This is a challenging dream to make come true. The global population is by now quite familiar with our country and its history, but apart from Bangla-speaking Bangladeshis across the world, there’s hardly anyone who knows about our literature. There’s hardly anyone who has read the works of our authors.
We don’t have to go very far. If we just consider the Bangla-speaking population in our neighbouring country, we may experience a shock. If you carried out an informal survey in the Indian state of West Bengal, the extent to which our literature has spread would be clear. Apart from Humayun Ahmed, you’d rarely find any books written by Bangladeshi authors in the bookstalls of Kolkata.
On the other hand, we the readers in Bangladesh know about and have read a great many works written by authors of West Bengal. Works of Sunil, Samaresh, Shirshendu, Buddhadev, Beena Basu, Tarashankar — you name it, we have read them all. The flow of books from West Bengal into the Bangladeshi market has increased manifold in recent times.
The publishers of West Bengal have realized that Bangladesh is an enormous market for their authors. A few Bangladeshi bookshop owners have also picked up on the trend and are importing Indian Bangla books in great numbers and are successfully selling them.
And we are reading these works with much interest. And I have a feeling that we read works by Indian authors more than we do our own.
There are certainly good reasons behind it. We have never actively promoted the works of our authors at home and abroad. How many people outside Bangladesh have read the works of Munier Chowdhury, Shahidullah Kaiser, Sufia Kamal, Syed Haq, Akhtaruzzaman Elias, and many others? Not many.
Translation is another way to spread a country’s literature around the world. But the art of translation is not much appreciated here. The Bangla Academy has done some translation, but it’s not at all enough to make our literature known to the world. The local publishers are apathetic to translation because there are not many translators in the country.
We mostly translate our works into English. That’s the only foreign language that some us know. Many of us know the English language, but most of us don’t have the knowledge and skills that are required to translate literary works. And again, we may have translators, but we don’t have editors who would ready these translations for the market.
Not to mention the fact that the translators are so poorly paid in Bangladesh that this could not be established as a profession.
Have we thought of translating our works into Hindi, Urdu, Sinhalese, French, or German, for example? Not at all. We don’t know those languages. But it would’ve been possible if we had Bangla Cultural Centres in those countries.
How does Britain promote its literature? Once upon a time, it was done through colonization and now they do that through the British Council. The Indians, the French, the Germans, the Americans, they all have cultural centres with an aim to spread their culture and literature.
We haven’t been able to do the same.
Bangla should have been at the top in terms of its influence and presence across the world. This is one of the few languages for which people sacrificed their lives.
But what is stopping us? I believe our love for other languages, especially English, has prevented us from loving our own language. We have reached a point where we consider knowing English to be smarter than knowing Bangla.
We’re not passionate enough about disseminating our literature in other countries. Our publishers are not interested. They must stop thinking of their short-term financial gains by just selling books at the Ekushey Boi Mela. Publishing is not merely a business of selling books; it’s an avenue through which knowledge is spread. It is a responsibility.
We have many great writers in Bangla whose works speak volumes about our land, people, and culture. I believe it’s time to let the world know about us.
First published in Dhaka Tribune.

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