Khademul Islam

Ibrahim Buksh's Circus and Other Stories by Shahaduz Zaman (translated by Sonia Amin), Dhaka: UPL; 2008.

Shahaduz Zaman is a Bengali writer, well regarded especially for his short stories. He has a doctorate in medical anthropology and teaches at BRAC University. He has written widely on the subject in both English and Bengali--I remember reading a Bengali daily's Eid issue where he published an engrossing ethnographic piece on our hospital culture. His dissertation and training has meant that a degree of native medical folklore and knowledge has seeped into his fiction, which has given them a texture and atmosphere unusual in Bengali short stories. In this collection of eight of his short stories in English translation being reviewed here, for instance, 'Clara Linden in Nijkolmohona' gives us examples of folk songs of midwives and those sung during pregnancy:

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It can also lead him into dubious areas. In the story 'Paper Plane,' a man on a bridge at night comes up to the narrator (unreliable, of course!) and says, 'Listen, sir, Literature was not born the day a boy ran out screaming 'Wolf! Wolf!' with a huge brown creature in hot pursuit. It was born when that boy shouted 'Wolf! Wolf!' and there was no wolf at all!' The above is actually Nabokov's famous formulation about literature and the necessary duplicity of the artist. While the erudite reader of English literary criticism may recognize and resonate to the words, one has to wonder: What about average readers reading the story in the original Bangla, who are very likely unaware of the deeper reaches of Nabokov's conception of art and the creative process? What are they to make of it? If unexplained (and I don't have the original Bangla with me), then it's in danger of being merely an acquired pose, an affectation of deep thought. Or perhaps in postmodernism it doesn't matter, in which case the issue is moot...
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Khademul Islam is literary editor, The Daily Star.
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